THE RIVER AND ITS INFLUENCE UPON THE FORMATION AND CHARACTER OF THE COUNTRY -- THE OLDEST INHABITANTS OF THE LAND -- THE FIRST POLITICAL ORGANIZATION OF THE VALLEY.
The Delta: its gradual formation, its structure, its canals -- The valley of Egypt -- The two arms of the river -- The Eastern Nile -- The appearance of its hanks -- The hills -- The gorge of Gehel Silsileh -- The cataracts: the falls of Aswan -- Nubia -- The rapids of Wady Halfah -- The Takazze -- The Blue Nile and the White Nile.
The sources of the Nile -- The Egyptian cosmography -- The four pillars and the four upholding mountains -- The celestial Nile the source of the terrestial Nile -- the Southern Sea and the islands of Spirits -- The tears of Isis -- The rise of the Nile -- The Green Nile and the Bed Nile -- The opening of the dykes -- -The fall of the Nile -- The river at its lowest ebb.
The alluvial deposits and the effects of the inundation upon the soil of Egypt -- Paucity of the flora: aquatic plants, the papyrus and the lotus; the sycamore and the date-palm, the acacias, the dom-palms -- The fauna: the domestic and wild animals; serpents, the urstus; the hippopotamus and the crocodile; birds; fish, the fahaka.
The Nile god: his form and its varieties -- The goddess Mirit -- The supposed sources of the Nile at Elephantine -- The festivals of Gebel Silsileh-Hymn to the Nile from papyri m the British Museum.
The names of the Nile and Egypt: Bomitu and Qimit -- Antiquity of the Egyptianpeople -- Their first horizon -- The hypothesis of their Asiatic origin -- The probability of their African origin -- The language and its Semitic affinities -- The race and its principal types.
The primitive civilization of Egypt -- Its survival into historic times -- The women of Amon -- Marriage -- Rights of women and children -- Houses -- Furniture -- Dress -- Jewels -- Wooden and metal arms -- Primitive life-Fishing and hunting -- The lasso and |bolas| -- The domestication of animals -- Plants used for food -- The lotus -- Cereals -- The hoe and the plough.
The conquest of the valley -- Dykes -- Basins -- Irrigation -- The princes -- The nomes -- The first local principalities -- Late organization of the Delta -- Character of its inhabitants -- Gradual division of the principalities and changes of then areas -- The god of the city.
[Illustration: 003.jpg CHAPTER ONE]
THE NILE AND EGYPT
The river and its influence upon the formation of the country -- The oldest inhabitants of the valley and its first political organization.
* The same expression has been attributed to Hecatseus of Miletus. It has often been observed that this phrase seems Egyptian on the face of it, and it certainly recalls such forms of expression as the following, taken from a formula frequently found on funerary |All things created by heaven, given by earth, brought by the Nile -- from its mysterious sources.| Nevertheless, up to the present time, the hieroglyphic texts have yielded nothing altogether
corresponding to the exact terms of the Greek historians -- gift of the Nile, or its natural product.
A long low, level shore, scarcely rising above the sea, a chain of vaguely defined and ever-shifting lakes and marshes, then the triangular plain beyond, whose apex is thrust thirty leagues into the land -- this, the Delta of Egypt, has gradually been acquired from the sea, and is as it were the gift of the Nile. The Mediterranean once reached to the foot of the sandy plateau on which stand the Pyramids, and formed a wide gulf where now stretches plain beyond plain of the Delta. The last undulations of the Arabian hills, from Gebel Mokattam to Gebel Geneffeh, were its boundaries on the east, while a sinuous and shallow channel running between Africa and Asia united the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Westward, the littoral followed closely the contour of the Libyan plateau; but a long limestone spur broke away from it at about 31 deg. N., and terminated in Cape Abukir. The alluvial deposits first tilled up the depths of the bay, and then, under the influence of the currents which swept along its eastern coasts, accumulated behind that rampart of sand-hills whose remains are still to be seen near Benha. Thus was formed a miniature Delta, whose structure pretty accurately corresponded with that of the great Delta of to-day. Here the Nile divided into three divergent streams, roughly coinciding with the southern courses of the Rosetta and Damietta branches, and with the modern canal of Abu Meneggeh. The ceaseless accumulation of mud brought down by the river soon overpassed the first limits, and steadily encroached upon the sea until it was carried beyond the shelter furnished by Cape Abukir. Thence it was gathered into the great littoral current flowing from Africa to Asia, and formed an incurvated coast-line ending in the headland of Casios, on the Syrian frontier. From that time Egypt made no further increase towards the north, and her coast remains practically such as it was thousands of years ago:[*] the interior alone has suffered change, having been dried up, hardened, and gradually raised. Its inhabitants thought they could measure the exact length of time in which this work of creation had been accomplished. According to the Egyptians, Menes, the first of their mortal kings, had found, so they said, the valley under water. The sea came in almost as far as the Fayum, and, excepting the province of Thebes, the whole country was a pestilential swamp. Hence, the necessary period for the physical formation of Egypt would cover some centuries after Menes. This is no longer considered a sufficient length of time, and some modern geologists declare that the Nile must have worked at the formation of its own estuary for at least seventy-four thousand years.[**]
* Elie de Beaumont, |The great distinction of the Nile Delta lies in the almost uniform persistence of its coast-line.... The present sea-coast of Egypt is little altered from that of three thousand years ago.| The latest observations prove it to be sinking and shrinking near Alexandria to rise in the neighbourhood of Port Said.
** Others, as for example Schweinfurth, are more moderate in their views, and think |that it must have taken about twenty thousand years for that alluvial deposit which now forms the arable soil of Egypt to have attained to its present depth and fertility.|
This figure is certainly exaggerated, for the alluvium would gain on the shallows of the ancient gulf far more rapidly than it gains upon the depths of the Mediterranean. But even though we reduce the period, we must still admit that the Egyptians little suspected the true age of their country. Not only did the Delta long precede the coming of Menes, but its plan was entirely completed before the first arrival of the Egyptians. The Greeks, full of the mysterious virtues which they attributed to numbers, discovered that there were seven principal branches, and seven mouths of the Nile, and that, as compared with these, the rest were but false mouths.
[Illustration: 006.jpg THE MOUTH OF THE NILE PREVIOUS TO THE FORMATION OF THE DELTA.]
As a matter of fact, there were only three chief outlets. The Canopic branch flowed westward, and fell into the Mediterranean near Cape Abukir, at the western extremity of the arc described by the coast-line. The Pelusiac branch followed the length of the Arabian chain, and flowed forth at the other extremity; and the Sebennytic stream almost bisected the triangle contained between the Canopic and Pelusiac channels. Two thousand years ago, these branches separated from the main river at the city of Cerkasoros, nearly four miles north of the site where Cairo now stands. But after the Pelusiac branch had ceased to exist, the fork of the river gradually wore away the land from age to age, and is now some nine miles lower down.[*] These three great waterways are united by a network of artificial rivers and canals, and by ditches -- some natural, others dug by the hand of man, but all ceaselessly shifting. They silt up, close, open again, replace each other, and ramify in innumerable branches over the surface of the soil, spreading life and fertility on all sides. As the land rises towards the south, this web contracts and is less confused, while black mould and cultivation alike dwindle, and the fawn-coloured line of the desert comes into sight. The Libyan and Arabian hills appear above the plain, draw nearer to each other, and gradually shut in the horizon until it seems as though they would unite. And there the Delta ends, and Egypt proper has begun.
It is only a strip of vegetable mould stretching north and south between regions of drought and desolation, a prolonged oasis on the banks of the river, made by the Nile, and sustained by the Nile. The whole length of the land is shut in between two ranges of hills, roughly parallel at a mean distance of about twelve miles.[**]
* By the end of the Byzantine period, the fork of the river lay at some distance south of Shetnufi, the present Shatanuf, which is the spot where it now is. The Arab geographers call the head of the Delta Batn-el-Bagaraji, the Cow's Belly. Ampere, in his Voyage en Egypte et en Nubie, p.120, says, -- |May it not be that this name, denoting the place where the most fertile part of Egypt begins, is a
reminiscence of the Cow Goddess, of Isis, the symbol of fecundity, and the personification of Egypt?|
**De Roziere estimated the mean breadth as being only a little over nine miles.
During the earlier ages, the river filled all this intermediate space, and the sides of the hills, polished, worn, blackened to their very summits, still bear unmistakable traces of its action. Wasted, and shrunken within the deeps of its ancient bed, the stream now makes a way through its own thick deposits of mud. The bulk of its waters keeps to the east, and constitutes the true Nile, the |Great River| of the hieroglyphic inscriptions. A second arm flows close to the Libyan desert, here and there formed into canals, elsewhere left to follow its own course. From the head of the Delta to the village of Demt it is called the Bahr-Yusuf; beyond Derut -- up to Gebel Silsileh -- it is the Ibrahimiyeh, the Sohagiyeh, the Raian. But the ancient names are unknown to us. This Western Nile dries up in winter throughout all its upper courses: where it continues to flow, it is by scanty accessions from the main Nile. It also divides north of Henassieh, and by the gorge of Illahun sends out a branch which passes beyond the hills into the basin of the Fayurn. The true Nile, the Eastern Nile, is less a river than a sinuous lake encumbered with islets and sandbanks, and its navigable channel winds capriciously between them, flowing with a strong and steady current below the steep, black banks cut sheer through the alluvial earth.
[Illustration: 009.jpg A LINE OF LADEN CAMELS EMERGES FROM A HOLLOW OF THE UNDULATING ROAD.1]
1 From a drawing by Boudier, after a photograph by Insinger, taken in 1884.
There are light groves of the date-palm, groups of acacia trees and sycamores, square patches of barley or of wheat, fields of beans or of bersim,[*] and here and there a long bank of sand which the least breeze raises into whirling clouds. And over all there broods a great silence, scarcely broken by the cry of birds, or the song of rowers in a passing boat.
* Bersim is a kind of trefoil, the Trifolium Alexandrinum of LINNAEUS. It is very common in Egypt, and the only plant of the kind generally cultivated for fodder.
Something of human life may stir on the banks, but it is softened into poetry by distance. A half-veiled woman, bearing a bundle of herbs upon her head, is driving her goats before her. An irregular line of asses or of laden camels emerges from one hollow of the undulating road only to disappear within another. A group of peasants, crouched upon the shore, in the ancient posture of knees to chin, patiently awaits the return of the ferry-boat.
1 From a drawing by Boudier, after a photograph by Insinger, taken in 1886.
A dainty village looks forth smiling from beneath its palm trees. Near at hand it is all naked filth and ugliness: a cluster of low grey huts built of mud and laths; two or three taller houses, whitewashed; an enclosed square shaded by sycamores; a few old men, each seated peacefully at his own door; a confusion of fowls, children, goats, and sheep; half a dozen boats made fast ashore. But, as we pass on, the wretchedness all fades away; meanness of detail is lost in light, and long before it disappears at a bend of the river, the village is again clothed with gaiety and serene beauty. Day by day, the landscape repeats itself. The same groups of trees alternate with the same fields, growing green or dusty in the sunlight according to the season of the year. With the same measured flow, the Nile winds beneath its steep banks and about its scattered islands.
[Illustration: 011.jpg PART OF GEBEL SHEKH HERIDI.1]
1 From a drawing by Boudier, after a photograph by Insinger, taken in 1882.
One village succeeds another, each alike smiling and sordid under its crown of foliage. The terraces of the Libyan hills, away beyond the Western Nile, scarcely rise above the horizon, and lie like a white edging between the green of the plain and the blue of the sky. The Arabian hills do not form one unbroken line, but a series of mountain masses with their spurs, now approaching the river, and now withdrawing to the desert at almost regular intervals. At the entrance to the valley, rise Gebel Mokattam and Gebel el-Ahmar. Gebel Hemur-Shemul and Gebel Shekh Embarak next stretch in echelon from north to south, and are succeeded by Gebel et-Ter, where, according to an old legend, all the birds of the world are annually assembled.[*]
* In Makrizi's Description of Egypt we read: |Every year, upon a certain day, all the herons (Boukir, Ardea bubulcus of Cuvier) assemble at this mountain. One after another, each puts his beak into a cleft of the hill until the cleft closes upon one of them. And then forthwith all the others fly away But the bird which has been caught struggles until he dies, and there his body remains until it has fallen into dust.| The same tale is told by other Arab writers, of which a list may be seen in Etienne Quatremere, Memoires historiques et geographiques sur l'Egypte et quelques contrees voisines, vol. i. pp.31-33. It faintly recalls that ancient tradition of the Cleft at Abydos, whereby souls must pass, as human-headed birds, in order to reach the other world.
[Illustration: 12.jpg THE HILL OF KASR ES-SAYYAD.2]
2 From a drawing by Boudier, after a photograph by insinger, taken in 1882.
Then follows Gebel Abufeda, dreaded by the sailors for its sudden gusts. Limestone predominates throughout, white or yellowish, broken by veins of alabaster, or of red and grey sandstones. Its horizontal strata are so symmetrically laid one above another as to seem more like the walls of a town than the side of a mountain. But time has often dismantled their summits and loosened their foundations. Man has broken into their facades to cut his quarries and his tombs; while the current is secretly undermining the base, wherein it has made many a breach. As soon as any margin of mud has collected between cliffs and river, halfah and wild plants take hold upon it, and date-palms grow there -- whence their seed, no one knows. Presently a hamlet rises at the mouth of the ravine, among clusters of trees and fields in miniature. Beyond Siut, the light becomes more glowing, the air drier and more vibrating, and the green of cultivation loses its brightness. The angular outline of the dom-palni mingles more and more with that of the common palm and of the heavy sycamore, and the castor-oil plant increasingly abounds. But all these changes come about so gradually that they are effected before we notice them. The plain continues to contract. At Thebes it is still ten miles wide; at the gorge of Gebelen it has almost disappeared, and at Gebel Silsileh it has completely vanished. There, it was crossed by a natural dyke of sandstone, through which the waters have with difficulty scooped for themselves a passage. From this point, Egypt is nothing but the bed of the Nile lying between two escarpments of naked rock.
Further on the cultivable land reappears, but narrowed, and changed almost beyond recognition. Hills, hewn out of solid sandstone, succeed each other at distances of about two miles, low, crushed, sombre, and formless. Presently a forest of palm trees, the last on that side, announces Aswan and Nubia. Five banks of granite, ranged in lines between latitude 24 deg. and 18 deg. N., cross Nubia from east to west, and from north-east to south-west, like so many ramparts thrown up between the Mediterranean and the heart of Africa. The Nile has attacked them from behind, and made its way over them one after another in rapids which have been glorified by the name of cataracts.
[Illustration: 014.jpg ENTRANCE TO THE FIRST CATARACT.1]
1 View taken from the hills opposite Elephantine, by Insinger, in 1884.
Classic writers were pleased to describe the river as hurled into the gulfs of Syne with so great a roar that the people of the neighbourhood were deafened by it. Even a colony of Persians, sent thither by Cambyses, could not bear the noise of the falls, and went forth to seek a quieter situation. The first cataract is a kind of sloping and sinuous passage six and a quarter miles in length, descending from the island of Philae to the port of Aswan, the aspect of its approach relieved and brightened by the ever green groves of Elephantine. Beyond Elephantine are cliffs and sandy beaches, chains of blackened |roches moutonnees| marking out the beds of the currents, and fantastic reefs, sometimes bare and sometimes veiled by long grasses and climbing plants, in which thousands of birds have made their nests. There are islets too, occasionally large enough to have once supported something of a population, such as Amerade, Salug, Sehel. The granite threshold of Nubia, is broken beyond Sehel, but its debris, massed m disorder against the right bank, still seem to dispute the passage of the waters, dashing turbulently and roaring as they flow along through tortuous channels, where every streamlet is broken up into small cascades, ihe channel running by the left bank is always navigable.
[Illustration: 015.jpg ENTRANCE TO NUBIA.]
During the inundation, the rocks and sandbanks of the right side are completely under water, and their presence is only betrayed by eddies. But on the river's reaching its lowest point a fall of some six feet is established, and there big boats, hugging the shore, are hauled up by means of ropes, or easily drift down with the current.
[Illustration: 016.jpg LEAGUE BEYOND LEAGUE, THE HILLS STKETCH ON IN LOW IGNOBLE OUTLINE.1]
1 From a drawing by Boudier, after a photograph by Insinger, taken in 1881.
All kinds of granite are found together in this corner of Africa. There are the pink and red Syenites, porphyritic granite, yellow granite, grey granite, both black granite and white, and granites veined with black and veined with white. As soon as these disappear behind us, various sandstones begin to crop up, allied to the coarsest calcaire grossier. The hill bristle with small split blocks, with peaks half overturned, with rough and denuded mounds. League beyond league, they stretch in low ignoble outline. Here and there a valley opens sharply into the desert, revealing an infinite perspective of summits and escarpments in echelon one behind another to the furthest plane of the horizon, like motionless caravans. The now confined river rushes on with a low, deep murmur, accompanied night and day by the croaking of frogs and the rhythmic creak of the sakieh.[*]
* The sakieh is made of a notch-wheel fixed vertically on a horizontal axle, and is actuated by various cog-wheels set in continuous motion by oxen or asses. A long chain of earthenware vessels brings up the water either from the river itself, or from some little branch canal, and empties it into a system of troughs and reservoirs. Thence, it flows forth to be distributed over all the neighbouring land.
Jetties of rough stone-work, made in unknown times by an unknown people, run out like breakwaters into midstream.
[Illustration: 018.jpg THE ENTRANCE TO THE FIRST CATARACT]
From time to time waves of sand are borne over, and drown the narrow fields of durra and of barley. Scraps of close, aromatic pasturage, acacias, date-palms, and dom-palms, together with a few shrivelled sycamores, are scattered along both banks. The ruins of a crumbling pylon mark the site of some ancient city, and, overhanging the water, is a vertical wall of rock honeycombed with tombs. Amid these relics of another age, miserable huts, scattered hamlets, a town or two surrounded with little gardens are the only evidence that there is yet life in Nubia. South of Wady Halfah, the second granite bank is broken through, and the second cataract spreads its rapids over a length of four leagues: the archipelago numbers more than 350 islets, of which some sixty have houses upon them and yield harvests to their inhabitants. The main characteristics of the first two cataracts are repeated with slight variations in the cases of the three which follow, -- at Hannek, at Guerendid, and El-Hu-mar. It is Egypt still, but a joyless Egypt bereft of its brightness: impoverished, disfigured, and almost desolate.
[Illustration: 020.jpg ENTRANCE TO THE SECOND CATAKACT.1]
1 View taken from the top of the rocks of Abusir, after a photograph by Insinger, in 1881.
There is the same double wall of hills, now closely confining the valley, and again withdrawing from each other as though to flee into the desert. Everywhere are moving sheets of sand, steep black banks with their narrow strips of cultivation, villages which are scarcely visible on account of the lowness of their huts sycamore ceases at Gebel-Barkal, date-palms become fewer and finally disappear. The Nile alone has not changed. And it was at Philse, so it is at Berber. Here, however, on the right bank, 600 leagues from the sea, is its first affluent, the Takazze, which intermittently brings to it the waters of Northern Ethiopia. At Khartum, the single channel in which the river flowed divides; and two other streams are opened up in a southerly direction, each of them apparently equal in volume to the main stream. Which is the true Nile? Is it the Blue Nile, which seems to come down from the distant mountains? Or is it the White Nile, which has traversed the immense plains of equatorial Africa. The old Egyptians never knew. The river kept the secret of its source from them as obstinately as it withheld it from us until a few years ago. Vainly did their victorious armies follow the Nile for months together as they pursued the tribes who dwelt upon its banks, only to find it as wide, as full, as irresistible in its progress as ever. It was a fresh-water sea, and sea -- iauma, ioma -- was the name by which they called it.
The Egyptians therefore never sought its source. They imagined the whole universe to be a large box, nearly rectangular in form, whose greatest diameter was from south to north, and its least from east to west. The earth, with its alternate continents and seas, formed the bottom of the box; it was a narrow, oblong, and slightly concave floor, with Egypt in its centre. The sky stretched over it like an iron ceiling, flat according to some, vaulted according to others. Its earthward face was capriciously sprinkled with lamps hung from strong cables, and which, extinguished or unperceived by day, were lighted, or became visible to our eyes, at night.
[Illustration: 022.jpg AN ATTEMPT TO REPRESENT THE EGYPTIAN UNIVERSE.2]
2 Section taken at Hermopolis. To the left, is the bark of the sun on the celestial river.
Since this ceiling could not remain in mid-air without support, four columns, or rather four forked trunks of trees, similar to those which maintained the primitive house, were supposed to uphold it. But it was doubtless feared lest some tempest should overturn them, for they were superseded by four lofty peaks, rising at the four cardinal points, and connected by a continuous chain of mountains. The Egyptians knew little of the northern peak: the Mediterranean, the |Very Green,| interposed between it and Egypt, and prevented their coming near enough to see it. The southern peak was named Apit the Horn of the Earth; that on the east was called Bakhu, the Mountain of Birth; and the western peak was known as Manu, sometimes as Onkhit, the Region of Life.
[Illustration: 023.jpg FOOTNOTES WITH GRAPHICS]
Bakhu was not a fictitious mountain, but the highest of those distant summits seen from the Nile in looking towards the red Sea. In the same way, Manu answered to some hill of the Libyan desert, whose summit closed the horizon. When it was discovered that neither Bakhu nor Manu were the limits of the world, the notion of upholding the celestial roof was not on that account given up. It was only necessary to withdraw the pillars from sight, and imagine fabulous peaks, invested with familiar names. These were not supposed to form the actual boundary of the universe; a great river -- analogous to the Ocean-stream of the Greeks -- lay between them and its utmost limits. This river circulated upon a kind of ledge projecting along the sides of the box a little below the continuous mountain chain upon which the starry heavens were sustained. On the north of the ellipse, the river was bordered by a steep and abrupt bank, which took its rise at the peak of Manu on the west, and soon rose high enough to form a screen between the river and the earth. The narrow valley which it hid from view was known as Da'it from remotest times. Eternal night enfolded that valley in thick darkness, and filled it with dense air such as no living thing could breathe. Towards the east the steep bank rapidly declined, and ceased altogether a little beyond Bakhu, while the river flowed on between low and almost level shores from east to south, and then from south to west. The sun was a disc of fire placed upon a boat. At the same equable rate, the river carried it round the ramparts of the world. Erom evening until morning it disappeared within the gorges of Dait; its light did not then reach us, and it was night. From morning until evening its rays, being no longer intercepted by any obstacle, were freely shed abroad from one end of the box to the other, and it was day. The Nile branched off from the celestial river at its southern bend;[*] hence the south was the chief cardinal point to the Egyptians, and by that they oriented themselves, placing sunrise to their left, and sunset to their right.
* The classic writers themselves knew that, according to Egyptian belief, the Nile flowed down from heaven. The legend of the Nile having its source in the ocean stream was but a Greek transposition of the Egyptian doctrine, which represented it as an arm of the celestial river whereon the sun sailed round the earth.
Before they passed beyond the defiles of Gebel Silsileh, they thought that the spot whence the celestial waters left the sky was situate between Elephantine and Philae, and that they descended in an immense waterfall whose last leaps were at Syene. It may be that the tales about the first cataract told by classic writers are but a far-off echo of this tradition of a barbarous age. Conquests carried into the heart of Africa forced the Egyptians to recognize their error, but did not weaken their faith in the supernatural origin of the river. They only placed its source further south, and surrounded it with greater marvels. They told how, by going up the stream, sailors at length reached an undetermined country, a kind of borderland between this world and the next, a |Land of Shades,| whose inhabitants were dwarfs, monsters, or spirits. Thence they passed into a sea sprinkled with mysterious islands, like those enchanted archipelagoes which Portuguese and Breton mariners were wont to see at times when on their voyages, and which vanished at their approach. These islands were inhabited by serpents with human voices, sometimes friendly and sometimes cruel to the shipwrecked. He who went forth from the islands could never more re-enter them: they were resolved into the waters and lost within the bosom of the waves. A modern geographer can hardly comprehend such fancies; those of Greek and Roman times were perfectly familiar with them. They believed that the Nile communicated with the Red Sea near Suakin, by means of the Astaboras, and this was certainly the route which the Egyptians of old had imagined for their navigators. The supposed communication was gradually transferred farther and farther south; and we have only to glance over certain maps of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to see clearly drawn what the Egyptians had imagined -- the centre of Africa as a great lake, whence issued the Congo, the Zambesi, and the Nile. Arab merchants of the Middle Ages believed that a resolute man could pass from Alexandria or Cairo to the land of the Zindjes and the Indian Ocean by rising from river to river.[*]
* Joinville has given a special chapter to the description of the sources and wonders of the Nile, in which he believed as firmly as in an article of his creed. As late as the beginning of the seventeenth century, Wendelinus devoted part of his Admiranda Nili to proving that the river did not rise in the earthly Paradise. At Gurnah, forty years ago, Rhind picked up a legend which stated that the Nile flows down from the sky.
[Illustration: 027.jpg SOUTH AFRICA AND THE SOURCES OF THE NILE, BY ODOAKDO LOPEZ.1]
1 Facsimile of the map published by Kircher in OEdipus AEgyptiacus, vol. i. (Iconismus II), p.53.
Many of the legends relating to this subject are lost, while others have been collected and embellished with fresh features by Jewish and Christian theologians. The Nile was said to have its source in Paradise, to traverse burning regions inaccessible to man, and afterwards to fall into a sea whence it made its way to Egypt. Sometimes it carried down from its celestial sources branches and fruits unlike any to be found on earth. The sea mentioned in all these tales is perhaps a less extravagant invention than we are at first inclined to think. A lake, nearly as large as the Victoria Nyanza, once covered the marshy plain where the Bahr el-Abiad unites with the Sobat, and with the Bahr el-Ghazal. Alluvial deposits have filled up all but its deepest depression, which is known as Birket Nu; but, in ages preceding our era, it must still have been vast enough to suggest to Egyptian soldiers and boatmen the idea of an actual sea, opening into the Indian Ocean. The mountains, whose outline was vaguely seen far to southward on the further shores, doubtless contained within them its mysterious source. There the inundation was made ready, and there it began upon a fixed day. The celestial Nile had its periodic rise and fall, on which those of the earthly Nile depended. Every year, towards the middle of June, Isis, mourning for Osiris, let fall into it one of the tears which she shed over her brother, and thereupon the river swelled and descended upon earth. Isis has had no devotees for centuries, and her very name is unknown to the descendants of her worshippers; but the tradition of her fertilizing tears has survived her memory. Even to this day, every one in Egypt, Mussulman or Christian, knows that a divine drop falls from heaven during the night between the 17th and 18th of June, and forthwith brings about the rise of the Nile. Swollen by the rains which fall in February over the region of the Great Lakes, the White Nile rushes northward, sweeping before it the stagnant sheets of water left by the inundation of the previous year. On the left, the Bahr el-Ghazal brings it the overflow of the ill-defined basin stretching between Darfur and the Congo; and the Sobat pours in on the right a tribute from the rivers which furrow the southern slopes of the Abyssinian mountains. The first swell passes Khartum by the end of April, and raises the water-level there by about a foot, then it slowly makes its way through Nubia, and dies away in Egypt at the beginning of June. Its waters, infected by half-putrid organic matter from the equatorial swamps, are not completely freed from it even in the course of this long journey, but keep a greenish tint as far as the Delta. They are said to be poisonous, and to give severe pains in the bladder to any who may drink them. I am bound to say that every June, for five years, I drank this green water from the Nile itself, without taking any other precaution than the usual one of filtering it through a porous jar. Neither I, nor the many people living with me, ever felt the slightest inconvenience from it. Happily, this Green Nile does not last long, but generally flows away in three or four days, and is only the forerunner of the real flood. The melting of the snows and the excessive spring rains having suddenly swollen the torrents which rise in the central plateau of Abyssinia, the Blue Nile, into which they flow, rolls so impetuously towards the plain that, when its waters reach Khartum in the middle of May, they refuse to mingle with those of the White Nile, and do not lose their peculiar colour before reaching the neighbourhood of Abu Hamed, three hundred miles below. From that time the height of the Nile increases rapidly day by day. The river, constantly reinforced by floods following one upon another from the Great Lakes and from Abyssinia, rises in furious bounds, and would become a devastating torrent were its rage not checked by the Nubian cataracts. Here six basins, one above another, in which the water collects, check its course, and permit it to flow thence only as a partially filtered and moderated stream. It is signalled at Syene towards the 8th of June, at Cairo by the 17th to the 20th, and there its birth is officially celebrated during the |Night of the Drop.| Two days later it reaches the Delta, just in time to save the country from drought and sterility. Egypt, burnt up by the Khamsin, a west wind blowing continuously for fifty days, seems nothing more than an extension of the desert. The trees are covered and choked by a layer of grey dust. About the villages, meagre and laboriously watered patches of vegetables struggle for life, while some show of green still lingers along the canals and in hollows whence all moisture has not yet evaporated. The plain lies panting in the sun -- naked, dusty, and ashen -- scored with intersecting cracks as far as eye can see. The Nile is only half its usual width, and holds not more than a twentieth of the volume of water which is borne down in October. It has at first hard work to recover its former bed, and attains it by such subtle gradations that the rise is scarcely noted. It is, however, continually gaining ground; here a sandbank is covered, there an empty channel is filled, islets are outlined where there was a continuous beach, a new stream detaches itself and gains the old shore. The first contact is disastrous to the banks; their steep sides, disintegrated and cracked by the heat, no longer offer any resistance to the current, and fall with a crash, in lengths of a hundred yards and more.
[Illustration: 31.jpg DURING THE INUNDATION]
As the successive floods grow stronger and are more heavily charged with mud, the whole mass of water becomes turbid and changes colour. In eight or ten days it has turned from greyish blue to dark red, occasionally of so intense a colour as to look like newly shed blood. The |Red Nile| is not unwholesome like the |Green Nile,| and the suspended mud to which it owes its suspicious appearance deprives the water of none of its freshness and lightness. It reaches its full height towards the 15th of July; but the dykes which confine it, and the barriers constructed across the mouths of canals, still prevent it from overflowing. The Nile must be considered high enough to submerge the land adequately before it is set free. The ancient Egyptians measured its height by cubits of twenty-one and a quarter inches. At fourteen cubits, they pronounced it an excellent Nile; below thirteen, or above fifteen, it was accounted insufficient or excessive, and in either case meant famine, and perhaps pestilence at hand. To this day the natives watch its advance with the same anxious eagerness; and from the 3rd of July, public criers, walking the streets of Cairo, announce each morning what progress it has made since evening. More or less authentic traditions assert that the prelude to the opening of the canals, in the time of the Pharaohs, was the solemn casting to the waters of a young girl decked as for her bridal -- the |Bride of the Nile.| Even after the Arab conquest, the irruption of the river into the bosom of the land was still considered as an actual marriage; the contract was drawn up by a cadi, and witnesses confirmed its consummation with the most fantastic formalities of Oriental ceremonial. It is generally between the 1st and 16th of July that it is decided to break through the dykes. When that proceeding has been solemnly accomplished in state, the flood still takes several days to fill the canals, and afterwards spreads over the low lands, advancing little by little to the very edge of the desert. Egypt is then one sheet of turbid water spreading between two lines of rock and sand, flecked with green and black spots where there are towns or where the ground rises, and divided into irregular compartments by raised roads connecting the villages. In Nubia the river attains its greatest height towards the end of August; at Cairo and in the Delta not until three weeks or a month later. For about eight days it remains stationary, and then begins to fall imperceptibly. Sometimes there is a new freshet in October, and the river again increases in height. But the rise is unsustained; once more it falls as rapidly as it rose, and by December the river has completely retired to the limits of its bed. One after another, the streams which fed it fail or dwindle. The Tacazze is lost among the sands before rejoining it, and the Blue Nile, well-nigh deprived of tributaries, is but scantily maintained by Abyssinian snows. The White Nile is indebted to the Great Lakes for the greater persistence of its waters, which feed the river as far as the Mediterranean, and save the valley from utter drought in winter. But, even with this resource, the level of the water falls daily, and its volume is diminished. Long-hidden sandbanks reappear, and are again linked into continuous line. Islands expand by the rise of shingly beaches, which gradually reconnect them with each other and with the shore. Smaller branches of the river cease to flow, and form a mere network of stagnant pools and muddy ponds, which fast dry up. The main channel itself is only intermittently navigable; after March boats run aground in it, and are forced to await the return of the inundation for their release. From the middle of April to the middle of June, Egypt is only half alive, awaiting the new Nile.
[Illustration: 034.jpg ASSIOUT]
Those ruddy and heavily charged waters, rising and retiring with almost mathematical regularity, bring and leave the spoils of the countries they have traversed: sand from Nubia, whitish clay from the regions of the Lakes, ferruginous mud, and the various rock-formations of Abyssinia. These materials are not uniformly disseminated in the deposits; their precipitation being regulated both by their specific gravity and the velocity of the current. Flattened stones and rounded pebbles are left behind at the cataract between Syene and Keneh, while coarser particles of sand are suspended in the undercurrents and serve to raise the bed of the river, or are carried out to sea and form the sandbanks which are slowly rising at the Damietta and Rosetta mouths of the Nile. The mud and finer particles rise towards the surface, and are deposited upon the land after the opening of the dykes. Soil which is entirely dependent on the deposit of a river, and periodically invaded by it, necessarily maintains but a scanty flora; and though it is well known that, as a general rule, a flora is rich in proportion to its distance from the poles and its approach to the equator, it is also admitted that Egypt offers an exception to this rule. At the most, she has not more than a thousand species, while, with equal area, England, for instance, possesses more than fifteen hundred; and of this thousand, the greater number are not indigenous. Many of them have been brought From Central Africa by the river: birds and winds have continued the work, and man himself has contributed his part in making it more complete. From Asia he has at different times brought wheat barley the olive, the apple, the white or pink almond, and some twenty other species now acclimatized on the banks of the Nile. Marsh plants predominate in the Delta; but the papyrus, and the three varieties of blue, white, and pink lotus which once flourished there, being no longer cultivated, have now almost entirely disappeared, and reverted to their original habitats.
[Illustration: 036.jpg ENTRANCE OF THE MUDIRIYEH OF ASYUT.]
The sycamore and the date-palm, both importations from Central Africa, have better adapted themselves to their exile, and are now fully naturalized on Egyptian soil.
[Illustration: 037.jpg FOREST OF DATE PALMS]
The sycamore grows in sand on the edge of the desert as vigorously as in the midst of a well-watered country. Its roots go deep in search of water, which infiltrates as far as the gorges of the hills, and they absorb it freely, even where drought seems to reign supreme. The heavy, squat, gnarled trunk occasionally attains to colossal dimensions, without ever growing very high. Its rounded masses of compact foliage are so wide-spreading that a single tree in the distance may give the impression of several grouped together; and its shade is dense, and impenetrable to the sun. A striking contrast to the sycamore is presented by the date-palm. Its round and slender stem rises uninterruptedly to a height of thirteen to sixteen yards; its head is crowned with a cluster of flexible leaves arranged in two or three tiers, but so scanty, so pitilessly slit, that they fail to keep off the light, and cast but a slight and unrefreshing shadow. Few trees have so elegant an appearance, yet few are so monotonously elegant. There are palm trees to be seen on every hand; isolated, clustered by twos and threes at the mouths of ravines and about the villages, planted in regular file along the banks of the river like rows of columns, symmetrically arranged in plantations, -- these are the invariable background against which other trees are grouped, diversifying the landscape. The feathery tamarisk[*] and the nabk, the moringa, the carob, or locust tree several varieties of acacia and mimosa-the sont, the mimosa habbas, the white acacia, the Acacia Parnesxana -- and the pomegranate tree, increase in number with the distance from the Mediterranean.
* The Egyptian name for the tamarisk, asari, asri, is identical with that given to it in Semitic languages, both ancient and modern. This would suggest the question whether the tamarisk did not originally come from Asia. In that case it must have been brought to Egypt from remote antiquity, for it figures in the Pyramid texts. Bricks of Nile mud, and Memphite and Theban tombs have yielded us leaves, twigs, and even whole branches of the tamarisk.
[Illustration: 40.jpg ACACIAS AT THE ENTRANCE TO A GARDEN OUTSIDE EKHMIM.1]
1 From a drawing by Boudier, from a photograph by Insinger, taken in 1884.
The dry air of the valley is marvellously suited to them, but makes the tissue of their foliage hard and fibrous, imparting an aerial aspect, and such faded tints as are unknown to their growth in other climates. The greater number of these trees do not reproduce themselves spontaneously, and tend to disappear when neglected. The Acacia Seyal, formerly abundant by the banks of the river, is now almost entirely confined to certain valleys of the Theban desert, along with a variety of the kernelled dom-palm, of which a poetical description has come down to us from the Ancient Egyptians. The common dom-palm bifurcates at eight or ten yards from the ground; these branches are subdivided, and terminate in bunches of twenty to thirty palmate and fibrous leaves, six to eight feet long. At the beginning of this century the tree was common in Upper Egypt, but it is now becoming scarce, and we are within measurable distance of the time when its presence will be an exception north of the first cataract. Willows are decreasing in number, and the persea, one of the sacred trees of Ancient Egypt, is now only to be found in gardens. None of the remaining tree species are common enough to grow in large clusters; and Egypt, reduced to her lofty groves of date-palms, presents the singular spectacle of a country where there is no lack of trees, but an almost entire absence of shade.
[Illustration: 41.jpg SHE-ASS AND HER FOAL.]
If Egypt is a land of imported flora, it is also a land of imported fauna, and all its animal species have been brought from neighbouring countries. Some of these -- as, for example, the horse and the camel -- were only introduced at a comparatively recent period, two thousand to eighteen hundred years before our era; the camel still later. The animals -- such as the long and short-horned oxen, together with varieties of goats and dogs -- are, like the plants, generally of African origin, and the ass of Egypt preserves an original purity of form and a vigour to which the European donkey has long been a stranger. The pig and the wild boar, the long-eared hare, the hedgehog, the ichneumon, the moufflon, or maned sheep, innumerable gazelles, including the Egyptian gazelles, and antelopes with lyre-shaped horns, are as much West Asian as African, like the carnivors of all sizes, whose prey they are -- the wild cat, the wolf, the jackal, the striped and spotted hyenas, the leopard, the panther, the hunting leopard, and the lion.
[Illustration: 042.jpg THE URAEUS OF EGYPT.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from pl. iii. of the Reptiles- Supplement to the Description de AEgypte.
On the other hand, most of the serpents, large and small, are indigenous. Some are harmless, like the colubers; others are venomous, such as the soy tale, the cerastes, the haje viper, and the asp. The asp was worshipped by the Egyptians under the name of uraeus. It occasionally attains to a length of six and a half feet, and when approached will erect its head and inflate its throat in readiness for darting forward. The bite is fatal, like that of the cerastes; birds are literally struck down by the strength of the poison, while the great mammals, and man himself, almost invariably succumb to it after a longer or shorter death-struggle. The uraeus is rarely found except in the desert or in the fields; the scorpion crawls everywhere, in desert and city alike, and if its sting is not always followed by death, it invariably causes terrible pain. Probably there were once several kinds of gigantic serpent in Egypt, analogous to the pythons of equatorial Africa. They are still to be seen in representations of funerary scenes, but not elsewhere; for, like the elephant, the giraffe, and other animals which now only thrive far south, they had disappeared at the beginning of historic times. The hippopotamus long maintained its ground before returning to those equatorial regions whence it had been brought by the Nile. Common under the first dynasties, but afterwards withdrawing to the marshes of the Delta, it there continued to flourish up to the thirteenth century of our era. The crocodile, which came with it, has, like it also, been compelled to beat a retreat. Lord of the river throughout all ancient times, worshipped and protected in some provinces, execrated and proscribed in others, it might still be seen in the neighbourhood of Cairo towards the beginning of our century. In 1840, it no longer passed beyond the neighbourhood of Gebel et-Ter, nor beyond that of Manfalut in Thirty years later, Mariette asserted that it was steadily retreating before the guns of tourists, and the disturbance which the regular passing of steamboats produced in the deep waters. To-day, no one knows of a single crocodile existing below Aswan, but it continues to infest Nubia, and the rocks of the first cataract: one of them is occasionally carried down by the current into Egypt where it is speedily despatched by the fellahin, or by some traveller in quest of adventure. The fertility of the soil, and the vastness of the lakes and marshes, attract many migratory birds; passerinae and palmipedes flock thither from all parts of the Mediterranean. Our European swallows, our quails, our geese and wild ducks, our herons -- to mention only the most familiar -- come here to winter, sheltered from cold and inclement weather.
[Illustration: 044.jpg THE IBIS OF EGYPT.]
Even the non-migratory birds are really, for the most part, strangers acclimatized by long sojourn. Some of them -- the turtledove, the magpie, the kingfisher, the partridge, and the sparrow-may be classed with our European species, while others betray their equatorial origin in the brightness of their colours. White and black ibises, red flamingoes, pelicans, and cormorants enliven the waters of the river, and animate the reedy swamps of the Delta in infinite variety. They are to be seen ranged in long files upon the sand-banks, fishing and basking in the sun; suddenly the flock is seized with panic, rises heavily, and settles away further off. In hollows of the hills, eagle and falcon, the merlin, the bald-headed vulture, the kestrel, the golden sparrow-hawk, find inaccessible retreats, whence they descend upon the plains like so many pillaging and well-armed barons. A thousand little chattering birds come at eventide to perch in flocks upon the frail boughs of tamarisk and acacia.
[Illustration: 045.jpg THE MORMYRUS OXYRHYNCHUS.]
Many sea-fish make their way upstream to swim in fresh waters-shad, mullet, perch, and labrus -- and carry their excursions far into the Said. Those species which are not Mediterranean came originally, still come annually, from the heart of Ethiopia with the of the Nile, including two kinds of Alestes, the elled turtle, the Bagrus docmac, and the mormyrus. Some attain to a gigantic size, the Bagrus bayad and the turtle to about one yard, the latus to three and a half yards in length, while others, such as the sihlrus (catfish), are noted for their electric properties. Nature seems to have made the fahaka (the globe-fish) in a fit of playfulness. It is a long fish from beyond the cataracts, and it is carried by the Nile the more easily on account of the faculty it has of filling itself with air, and inflating its body at will.
[Illustration: 046.jpg AHAKA]
When swelled out immoderately, the fahaka overbalances, and drifts along upside down, its belly to the wind, covered with spikes so that it looks like a hedgehog. During the inundation, it floats with the current from one canal to another, and is cast by the retreating waters upon the muddy fields, where it becomes the prey of birds or of jackals, or serves as a plaything for children.
[Illustration: 47.jpg TWO FISHERMEN CARRYING A LATUS.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a Medum painting. Petrie, Medum, pl. xii.
Everything is dependent upon the river: -- the soil, the produce of the soil, the species of animals it bears, the birds which it feeds: and hence it was the Egyptians placed the river among their gods. They personified it as a man with regular features, and a vigorous and portly body, such as befits the rich of high lineage. His breasts, fully developed like those of a woman, though less firm, hang heavily upon a wide bosom where the fat lies in folds. A narrow girdle, whose ends fall free about the thighs, supports his spacious abdomen, and his attire is completed by sandals, and a close-fitting head-dress, generally surmounted with a crown of water-plants. Sometimes water springs from his breast; sometimes he presents a frog, or libation vases; or holds a bundle of the cruces ansato, as symbols of life; or bears a flat tray, full of offerings -- bunches of flowers, ears of corn, heaps of fish, and geese tied together by the feet. The inscriptions call him, |Hapi, father of the gods, lord of sustenance, who maketh food to be, and covereth the two lands of Egypt with his products; who giveth life, banisheth want, and filleth the granaries to overflowing.| He is evolved into two personages, one being sometimes coloured red, and the other blue. The former, who wears a cluster of lotus-flowers upon his head, presides over the Egypt of the south; the latter has a bunch of papyrus for his head-dress, and watches over the Delta.[**]
[**] Wilkinson was the first who suggested that this god, when painted red was the Red (that is High) Nile and when painted blue, was to be identified with the Low Nile. This opinion has since been generally adopted; but to me it does not appear so incontrovertible as it has been
considered. Here, as in other cases, the difference in colour is only a means of making the distinction between two personages obvious to sight.
Two goddesses, corresponding to the two Hapis -- Mirit Qimait for Upper, and Mirit Mihit for Lower Egypt -- personified the banks of the river. They are often represented as standing with outstretched arms, as though begging for the water which should make them fertile. The Nile-god had his chapel in every province, and priests whose right it was to bury all bodies of men or beasts cast up by the river; for the god had claimed them, and to his servants they belonged.
[Illustration: 048.jpg THE NILE GOD.1]
1 THE NILE GOD: Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, after a statue in the British Museum. The dedication of this statue took place about 880 B.c. The giver was Sheshonqu, high-priest of Amon in Thebes, afterwards King of Egypt under the name of Sheshhonqu II., and he is represented as standing behind the leg of the god.
[Illustration: 049.jpg THE Shrine Of The Nile At Biggeh.1]
1 Reproduced from a bas-relief in the small temple of Philae, built by Rajan and his successors. The window or door of this temple opened upon gen, and by comparing the drawing of the Egyptian artist with the view i the end of the chamber, it is easy to recognize the original of this cliff bouette in the piled-up rocks of the island. By a mistake of the modern copyist's, his drawing faces the wrong way.
Several towns were dedicated to him: Hathapi, Nuit-Hapi, Nilo-polis. It was told in the Thebaid how the god dwelt within a grotto, or shrine (tophit), in the island of Biggeh, whence he issued at the inundation. This tradition dates from a time when the cataract was believed to be at the end of the world, and to bring down the heavenly river upon earth. Two yawning gulfs (qoriti), at the foot of the two granite cliffs (moniti) between which it ran, gave access to this mysterious retreat. A bas-relief from Philae represents blocks of stone piled one above another, the vulture of the south and the hawk of the north, each perched on a summit, wearing a panther skin, with both arms upheld in adoration. The statue is mutilated: the end of the nose, the beard, and part of the tray have disappeared, but are restored in the illustration. The two little birds hanging alongside the geese, together with a bunch of ears of corn, are fat quails, and the circular chamber wherein Hapi crouches concealed, clasping a libation vase in either hand. A single coil of a serpent outlines the contour of this chamber, and leaves a narrow passage between its overlapping head and tail through which the rising waters may overflow at the time appointed, bringing to Egypt |all things good, and sweet, and pure,| whereby gods and men are fed. Towards the summer solstice, at the very moment when the sacred water from the gulfs of Syene reached Silsileh, the priests of the place, sometimes the reigning sovereign, or one of his sons, sacrificed a bull and geese, and then cast into the waters a sealed roll of papyrus. This was a written order to do all that might insure to Egypt the benefits of a normal inundation. When Pharaoh himself deigned to officiate, the memory of the event was preserved by a stela engraved upon the rocks. Even in his absence, the festivals of the Nile were among the most solemn and joyous of the land. According to a tradition transmitted from age to age, the prosperity or adversity of the year was dependent upon the splendour and fervour with which they were celebrated. Had the faithful shown the slightest lukewarmness, the Nile might have refused to obey the command and failed to spread freely over the surface of the country. Peasants from a distance, each bringing his own provisions, ate their meals together for days, and lived in a state of brutal intoxication as long as this kind of fair lasted. On the great day itself, the priests came forth in procession from the sanctuary, bearing the statue of the god along the banks, to the sound of instruments and the chanting of hymns.
[Illustration: 051.jpg NILE GODS FROM THE TEMPLE OF SETI I. AT ABYDOS BRINGING FOOD TO EVERY NOME OF EGYPT.1]
1 From a drawing by Faucher-Gudin, after a photograph by Beato.
|I. -- Hail to thee, Hapi! -- who appearest in the land and comest -- to give life to Egypt; -- thou who dost hide thy coming in darkness -- in this very day whereon thy coming is sung, -- wave, which spreadest over the orchards created by Ra -- to give life to all them that are athirst -- who refusest to give drink unto the desert -- of the overflow of the waters of heaven; as soon as thou descendest, -- Sibu, the earth-god, is enamoured of bread, -- Napri, the god of grain, presents his offering, -- Phtah maketh every workshop to prosper.
|II. -- Lord of the fish! as soon as he passeth the cataract -- the birds no longer descend upon the fields; -- creator of corn, maker of barley, -- he prolongeth the existence of temples. -- Do his fingers cease from their labours, or doth he suffer? -- then are all the millions of beings in misery; -- doth he wane in heaven? then the gods -- themselves, and all men perish.
|III. -- The cattle are driven mad, and all the world -- both great and small, are in torment! -- But if, on the contrary, the prayers of men are heard at his rising -- and (for them) he maketh himself Khnumu, -- when he ariseth, then the earth shouts for joy, -- then are all bellies joyful, -- each back is shaken with laughter, -- and every tooth grindeth.
|IV. -- Bringing food, rich in sustenance, -- creator of all good things, -- lord of all seeds of life, pleasant unto his elect, -- if his friendship is secured -- he produceth fodder for the cattle, -- and he provideth for the sacrifices of all the gods, -- finer than any other is the incense which cometh from him; -- he taketh possession of the two lands -- and the granaries are filled, the storehouses are prosperous, -- and the goods of the poor are multiplied.
|V. -- He is at the service of all prayers to answer them, -- withholding nothing. To make boats to be that is his strength. -- Stones are not sculptured for him -- nor statues whereon the double crown is placed; -- he is unseen; -- no tribute is paid unto him and no offerings are brought unto him, -- he is not charmed by words of mystery; -- the place of his dwelling is unknown, nor can his shrine be found by virtue of magic writings.
|VI. -- There is no house large enough for thee, -- nor any who may penetrate within thy heart! -- Nevertheless, the generations of thy children rejoice in thee -- for thou dost rule as a king -- whose decrees are established for the whole earth, -- who is manifest in presence of the people of the South and of the North, -- by whom the tears are washed from every eye, -- and who is lavish of his bounties.
|VII. -- Where sorrow was, there doth break forth joy -- and every heart rejoiceth. Sovku, the crocodile, the child of Nit, leaps for gladness;[*] -- for the Nine gods who accompany thee have ordered all things, -- the overflow giveth drink unto the fields -- and maketh all men valiant; one man taketh to drink of the labour of another, -- without charge being brought against him.[**]
* The goddess Nit, the heifer born from the midst of the primordial waters, had two crocodiles as her children, which are sometimes represented on the monuments as hanging from her bosom. Both the part played by these animals, and the reason for connecting them with the goddess, are still imperfectly understood.
** This is an allusion to the quarrels and lawsuits resulting from the distribution of the water in years when the Nile was poor or bad. If the inundation is abundant, disputes are at an end.
|IX. -- If thou dost enter in the midst of songs to go forth in the midst of gladness, -- if they dance with joy when thou comest forth out of the unknown, -- it is that thy heaviness is death and corruption. -- And when thou art implored to give the water of the year, -- the people of the Thebai'd and of the North are seen side by side, -- each man with the tools of his trade, -- none tarrieth behind his neighbour; -- of all those who clothed themselves, no man clotheth himself (with festive garments) -- the children of Thot, the god of riches, no longer adorn themselves with jewels, -- nor the Nine gods, but they are in the night! -- As soon as thou hast answered by the rising, -- each one anointeth himself with perfumes.
|X. -- Establisher of true riches, desire of men, -- here are seductive words in order that thou mayest reply; -- if thou dost answer mankind by waves of the heavenly Ocean, -- Napri, the grain-god, presents his offering, -- all the gods adore (thee), -- the birds no longer descend upon the hills; -- though that which thy hand formeth were of gold -- or in the shape of a brick of silver, -- it is not lapis-lazuli that we eat, -- but wheat is of more worth than precious stones.
|XI. -- They have begun to sing unto thee upon the harp, -- they sing unto thee keeping time with their hands, -- and the generations of thy children rejoice in thee, and they have filled thee with salutations of praise; -- for it is the god of Riches who adorneth the earth, -- who maketh barks to prosper in the sight of man -- who rejoiceth the heart of women with child -- who loveth the increase of the flocks.
|XII. -- When thou art risen in the city of the Prince, -- then is the rich man filled -- the small man (the poor) disdaineth the lotus, -- all is solid and of good quality, -- all herbage is for his children. -- Doth he forget to give food? -- prosperity forsaketh the dwellings, -- and earth falleth into a wasting sickness.|
[Illustration: 055.jpg Libyan Mountains]
The word Nile is of uncertain origin. We have it from the Greeks, and they took it from a people foreign to Egypt, either from the Phoenicians, the Khiti, the Libyans, or from people of Asia Minor. When the Egyptians themselves did not care to treat their river as the god Hapi, they called it the sea, or the great river. They had twenty terms or more by which to designate the different phases which it assumed according to the seasons, but they would not have understood what was meant had one spoken to them of the Nile. The name Egypt also is part of the Hellenic tradition; perhaps it was taken from the temple-name of Memphis, Haikuphtah, which barbarian coast tribes of the Mediterranean must long have had ringing in their ears as that of the most important and wealthiest town to be found upon the shores of their sea. The Egyptians called themselves Bomitu, Botu, and their country Qimit, the black land. Whence came they? How far off in time are we to carry back the date of their arrival? The oldest monuments hitherto known scarcely transport us further than six thousand years, yet they are of an art so fine, so well determined in its main outlines, and reveal so ingeniously combined a system of administration, government, and religion, that we infer a long past of accumulated centuries behind them. It must always be difficult to estimate exactly the length of time needful for a race as gifted as were the Ancient Egyptians to rise from barbarism into a high degree of culture. Nevertheless, I do not think that we shall be misled in granting them forty or fifty centuries wherein to bring so complicated an achievement to a successful issue, and in placing their first appearance at eight or ten thousand years before our era. Their earliest horizon was a very limited one. Their gaze might wander westward over the ravine-furrowed plains of the Libyan desert without reaching that fabled land of Manu where the sun set every evening; but looking eastward from the valley, they could see the peak of Bakhu, which marked the limit of regions accessible to man.
Beyond these regions lay the beginnings of To-nutri, the land of the gods, and the breezes passing over it were laden with its perfumes, and sometimes wafted them to mortals lost in the desert.[*]
* The perfumes and the odoriferous woods of the Divine Land were celebrated in Egypt. A traveller or hunter, crossing the desert, |could not but be vividly impressed by suddenly becoming aware, in the very midst of the desert, of the penetrating scent of the robul (Puliciaria undulata, Schwbine.), which once followed us throughout a day and two nights, in some places without our being able to distinguish whence it came; as, for instance, when we were crossing tracts of country without any traces of vegetation whatever.| (Golenischeff).
Northward, the world came to an end towards the lagoons of the Delta, whose inaccessible islands were believed to be the sojourning-place of souls after death. As regards the south, precise knowledge of it scarcely went beyond the defiles of Gebel Sil-sileh, where the last remains of the granite threshold had perhaps not altogether disappeared. The district beyond Gebel Silsileh, the province of Konusit, was still a foreign and almost mythic country, directly connected with heaven by means of the cataract. Long after the Egyptians had broken through this restricted circle, the names of those places which had as it were marked out their frontiers, continued to be associated in their minds with the idea of the four cardinal points. Bakhu and Manu were still the most frequent expressions for the extreme East and West. Nekhabit and Buto, the most populous towns in the neighbourhoods of Gebel Silsileh and the ponds of the Delta, were set over against each other to designate South and North. It was within these narrow limits that Egyptian civilization struck root and ripened, as in a closed vessel. What were the people by whom it was developed, the country whence they came, the races to which they belonged, is to-day unknown. The majority would place their cradle-land in Asia,[*] but cannot agree in determining the route which was followed in the emigration to Africa.
* The greater number of contemporary Egyptologists, Brugsch, Ebers, -- Lauth, Lieblein, have rallied to this opinion, in the train of E. de Rouge; but the most extreme position has been taken up by Hommel, the Assyriologist, who is inclined to derive Egyptian civilization entirely from the
Babylonian. After having summarily announced this thesis in his Geschichte Babyloniens und Assyriens, p.12, et seq., he has set it forth at length in a special treatise, Der Babylonische Ursprung der agyptischen Kultur, 1892, wherein he endeavours to prove that the Heliopolitan myths, and hence the whole Egyptian religion, are derived from the cults of Eridu, and would make the name of the Egyptian city Onu, or Anu, identical with that of Nun-H, Nun, which is borne by the Chaldean.
Some think that the people took the shortest road across the Isthmus of Suez, others give them longer peregrinations and a more complicated itinerary. They would have them cross the Straits of Bab el-Mandeb, and then the Abyssinian mountains, and, spreading northward and keeping along the Nile, finally settle in the Egypt of to-day. A more minute examination compels us to recognize that the hypothesis of an Asiatic origin, however attractive it may seem, is somewhat difficult to maintain. The bulk of the Egyptian population presents the characteristics of those white races which have been found established from all antiquity on the Mediterranean slope of the Libyan continent; this population is of African origin, and came to Egypt from the West or South-West. In the valley, perhaps, it may have met with a black race which it drove back or destroyed; and there, perhaps, too, it afterwards received an accretion of Asiatic elements, introduced by way of the isthmus and the marshes of the Delta. But whatever may be the origin of the ancestors of the Egyptians, they were scarcely settled upon the banks of the Nile before the country conquered, and assimilated them to itself, as it has never ceased to do in the case of strangers who have occupied it. At the time when their history begins for us, all the inhabitants had long formed but one people, with but one language.
This language seems to be connected with the Semitic tongues by many of its roots. It forms its personal pronouns, whether isolated or suffixed, in a similar way. One of the tenses of the conjugation, and that the simplest and most archaic, is formed with identical affixes. Without insisting upon resemblances which are open to doubt, it may be almost affirmed that most of the grammatical processes used in Semitic languages are to be found in a rudimentary condition in Egyptian. One would say that the language of the people of Egypt and the languages of the Semitic races, having once belonged to the same group, had separated very early, at a time when the vocabulary and the grammatical system of the group had not as yet taken definite shape. Subject to different influences, the two families would treat in diverse fashion the elements common to both. The Semitic dialects continued to develop for centuries, while the Egyptian language, although earlier cultivated, stopped short in its growth. |If it is obvious that there was an original connexion between the language of Egypt and that of Asia, this connexion is nevertheless sufficiently remote to leave to the Egyptian race a distinct physiognomy.| We recognize it in sculptured and painted portraits, as well as in thousands of mummied bodies out of subterranean tombs. The highest type of Egyptian was tall and slender, with a proud and imperious air in the carriage of his head and in his whole bearing. He had wide and full shoulders, well-marked and vigorous pectoral muscles, muscular arms, a long, fine hand, slightly developed hips, and sinewy legs. The detail of the knee-joint and the muscles of the calf are strongly marked beneath the skin; the long, thin, and low-arched feet are flattened out at the extremities owing to the custom of going barefoot. The head is rather short, the face oval, the forehead somewhat retreating. The eyes are wide and fully opened, the cheekbones not too marked, the nose fairly prominent, and either straight or aquiline. The mouth is long, the lips full, and lightly ridged along their outline; the teeth small, even, well-set, and remarkably sound; the ears are set high on the head. At birth the skin is white, but darkens in proportion to its exposure to the sun. Men are generally painted red in the pictures, though, as a matter of fact, there must already have been all the shades which we see among the present population^ from a most delicate, rose-tinted complexion to that of a smoke-coloured bronze. Women, who were less exposed to the sun, are generally painted yellow, the tint paler in proportion as they rise in the social scale. The hair was inclined to be wavy, and even to curl into little ringlets, but without ever turning into the wool of the negro.
[Illustration: 059.jpg THE NOBLE TYPE OF EGYPTIAN.1]
1 Statue of Ranofir in the Gizeh Museum (Vth dynasty), after a photograph by Emil Brugsch-Bey.
[Illustration: 060.jpg HEAD OF A TILEBAN MUMMY.]
The beard was scanty, thick only upon the chin. Such was the highest type; the commoner was squat, dumpy, and heavy. Chest and shoulders seem to be enlarged at the expense of the pelvis and the hips, to such an extent as to make the want of proportion between the upper and lower parts of the body startling and ungraceful. The skull is long, somewhat retreating, and slightly flattened on the top; the features are coarse, and as though carved in flesh by great strokes of the blocking-out chisel. Small frseuated eyes, a short nose, flanked by widely distended nostrils, round cheeks, a square chin, thick, but not curling lips -- this unattractive and ludicrous physiognomy, sometimes animated by an expression of cunning which recalls the shrewd face of an old French peasant, is often lighted up by gleams of gentleness and of melancholy good-nature. The external characteristics of these two principal types in the ancient monuments, in all varieties of modifications, may still be seen among the living. The profile copied from a Theban mummy taken at hazard from a necropolis of the XVIIIth dynasty, and compared with the likeness of a modern Luxor peasant, would almost pass for a family portrait. Wandering Bisharin have inherited the type of face of a great noble, the contemporary of Kheops; and any peasant woman of the Delta may bear upon her shoulders che head of a twelfth-dynasty king. A citizen of Cairo, gazing with wonder at the statues of Khafra or of Seti I. in the Gizeh Museum, is himself, feature for feature, the very image of those ancient Pharaohs, though removed from them by fifty centuries.
[Illustration: 062.jpg A FELLAH WOMAN WITH THE FEATURES OF AN ANCIENT KING.1]
1 The face of the woman here given was taken separately, and was subsequently attached to the figure of an Egyptian woman whom Naville had photographed sitting beside a colossal head. The nose of the statue has been restored.
Until quite recently nothing, or all but nothing, had been discovered which could be attributed to the primitive races of Egypt: even the flint weapons and implements which had been found in various places could not be ascribed to them with any degree of certainty, for the Egyptians continued to use stone long after metal was known to them. They made stone arrowheads, hammers, and knives, not only in the time of the Pharaohs, but under the Romans, and during the whole period of the Middle Ages, and the manufacture of them has not yet entirely died out.[**]
** An entire collection of flint tools -- axes, adzes, knives, and sickles -- mostly with wooden handles, were found by Prof. Petrie in the ruins of Kahun, at the entrance to the Fayum: these go back to the time of the twelfth dynasty, more than three thousand years before our era. Mariette had previously pointed out to the learned world the fact that a Coptic Reis, Salib of Abydos, in charge of the
excavations, shaved his head with a flint knife, according to the custom of his youth (1820-35). I knew the man, who died at over eighty years of age in 1887; he was still faithful to his flint implement, while his sons and the whole population of El Kharbeh were using nothing but steel razors. As his scalp was scraped nearly raw by the
operation, he used to cover his head with fresh leaves to cool the inflamed skin.
These objects, and the workshops where they were made, might therefore be less ancient than the greater part of the inscribed monuments. But if so far we had found no examples of any work belonging to the first ages, we met in historic times with certain customs which were out of harmony with the general civilization of the period. A comparison of these customs with analogous practices of barbarous nations threw light upon the former, completed their meaning, and showed us at the same time the successive stages through which the Egyptian people had to pass before reaching their highest civilization. We knew, for example, that even as late as the Caesars, girls belonging to noble families at Thebes were consecrated to the service of Amon, and were thus licensed to a life of immorality, which, however, did not prevent them from making rich marriages when age obliged them to retire from office. Theban women were not the only people in the world to whom such licence was granted or imposed upon them by law; wherever in a civilized country we see a similar practice, we may recognize in it an ancient custom which in the course of centuries has degenerated into a religious observance. The institution of the women of Amon is a legacy from a time when the practice of polyandry obtained, and marriage did not yet exist. Age and maternity relieved them from this obligation, and preserved them from those incestuous connections of which we find examples in other races. A union of father and daughter, however, was perhaps not wholly forbidden,[*] and that of brother and sister seems to have been regarded as perfectly right and natural; the words brother and sister possessing in Egyptian love-songs the same significance as lover and mistress with us.
* E. de Rouge held that Rameses II. married at least two of his daughters, Bint Anati and Honittui; Wiedemann admits that Psammetichus I. had in the same way taken to wife Nitocris, who had been born to him by the Theban princess Shapenuapit. The Achaemenidan kings did the same: Artaxerxes married two of his own daughters.
Paternity was necessarily doubtful in a community of this kind, and hence the tie between fathers and children was slight; there being no family, in the sense in which we understand the word, except as it centred around the mother.
Maternal descent was, therefore, the only one openly acknowledged, and the affiliation of the child was indicated by the name of the mother alone. When the woman ceased to belong to all, and confined herself to one husband, the man reserved to himself the privilege of taking as many wives as he wished, or as he was able to keep, beginning with his own sisters. All wives did not enjoy identical rights: those born of the same parents as the man, or those of equal rank with himself, preserved their independence. If the law pronounced him the master, nibu, to whom they owed obedience and fidelity, they were mistresses of the house, nibit piru, as well as wives, himitu, and the two words of the title express their condition. Each of them occupied, in fact, her own house, piru, which she had from her parents or her husband, and of which she was absolute mistress, nibit. She lived in it and performed in it without constraint all a woman's duties; feeding the fire, grinding the corn, occupying herself in cooking and weaving, making clothing and perfumes, nursing and teaching her children. When her husband visited her, he was a guest whom she received on an equal footing. It appears that at the outset these various wives were placed under the authority of an older woman, whom they looked on as their mother, and who defended their rights and interests against the master; but this custom gradually disappeared, and in historic times we read of it as existing only in the families of the gods. The female singers consecrated to Amon and other deities, owed obedience to several superiors, of whom the principal (generally the widow of a king or high priest) was called chief-superior of the ladies of the harem of Amon. Besides these wives, there were concubines, slaves purchased or born in the house, prisoners of war, Egyptians of inferior class, who were the chattels of the man and of whom he could dispose as he wished. All the children of one father were legitimate, whether their mother were a wife or merely a concubine, but they did not all enjoy the same advantages; those among them who were born of a brother or sister united in legitimate marriage, took precedence of those whose mother was a wife of inferior rank or a slave. In the family thus constituted, the woman, to all appearances, played the principal part. Children recognized the parental relationship in the mother alone. The husband appears to have entered the house of his wives, rather than the wives to have entered his, and this appearance of inferiority was so marked that the Greeks were deceived by it. They affirmed that the woman was supreme in Egypt; the man at the time of marriage promised obedience to her and entered into a contract not to raise any objection to her commands.
We had, therefore, good grounds for supposing that the first Egyptians were semi-savages, like those still living in Africa and America, having an analogous organization, and similar weapons and tools. A few lived in the desert, in the oasis of Libya, or in the deep valleys of the Red Land -- Doshirit, To Doshiru -- between the Nile and the sea; the poverty of the country fostering their native savagery. Others, settled on the Black Land, gradually became civilized, and we have found of late considerable remains of those of their generations who, if not anterior to the times of written records, were at least contemporary with the earliest kings of the first historical dynasty.
[Illustration: 066.jpg NEGRO PRISONERS WEARING THE PANTHER'S SKIST AS A LOIN-CLOTH.]
Their houses were like those of the fellahs of to-day, low huts of wattle daubed with puddled clay, or of bricks dried in the sun. They contained one room, either oblong or square, the door being the only aperture. Those of the richer class only were large enough to make it needful to support the roof by means of one or more trunks of trees, which did duty for columns. Earthen pots, turned by hand, flint knives and other implements, mats of reeds or plaited straw, two flat stones for grinding corn, a few pieces of wooden furniture, stools, and head-rests for use at night, comprised all the contents. Their ordinary pottery is heavy and almost devoid of ornament, but some of the finer kinds have been moulded and baked in wickerwork baskets, which have left a quaint trellis-like impression on the surface of the clay. In many cases the vases are bicolour, the body being of a fine smooth red, polished with a stone, while the neck and base are of an intense black, the surface of which is even more shining than that of the red part. Sometimes they are ornamented with patterns in white of flowers, palms, ostriches, gazelles, boats with undulated or broken lines, or geometrical figures of a very simple nature. More often the ground is coloured a fine yellow, and the decoration has been traced in red lines. Jars, saucers, double vases, flat plates, large cups, supports for amphorae, trays raised on a foot -- in short, every kind of form is found in use at that remote period. The men went about nearly naked, except the nobles, who wore a panther's skin, sometimes thrown over the shoulders, sometimes drawn round the waist, and covering the lower part of the body, the animal's tail touching the heels behind, as we see later in several representations of the negroes of the Upper Nile. They smeared their limbs with grease or oil, and they tattooed their faces and bodies, at least in part; but in later times this practice was retained by the lower classes only. On the other hand, the custom of painting the face was never given up. To complete their toilet, it was necessary to accentuate the arch of the eyebrow with a line of kohl (antimony powder). A similar black line surrounded and prolonged the oval of the eye to the middle of the temple, a layer of green coloured the under lid, and ochre and carmine enlivened the tints of the cheeks and lips. The hair, plaited, curled, oiled, and plastered with grease, formed an erection which was as complicated in the case of the man as in that of the woman.
[Illustration: 068.jpg NOTABLE WEARING THE LARGE CLOAK OVER THE LEFT SHOULDER.1; AND PRIEST WEARING THE PANTHER'S SKIN ACROSS THE BREAST.2]
1 Wooden statue in the Gizeh Museum (IVth dynasty), drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Bechard.
2 Statue of the second prophet of Amon, Aa-nen, in the Turin Museum (XVIIIth dynasty).
Should the hair be too short, a black or blue wig, dressed with much skill, was substituted for it; ostrich feathers waved on the heads of warriors, and a large lock, flattened behind the right ear, distinguished the military or religious chiefs from their subordinates. When the art of weaving became common, a belt and loin-cloth of white linen replaced the leathern garment. Fastened round the waist, but so low as to leave the navel uncovered, the loin-cloth frequently reached to the knee; the hinder part was frequently drawn between the legs and attached in front to the belt, thus forming a kind of drawers. Tails of animals and wild beast's skin were henceforth only the insignia of authority with which priests and princes adorned themselves on great days and at religious ceremonies. The skin was sometimes carelessly thrown over the left shoulder and swayed with the movement of the body; sometimes it was carefully adjusted over one shoulder and under the other, so as to bring the curve of the chest into prominence. The head of the animal, skilfully prepared and enlivened by large eyes of enamel, rested on the shoulder or fell just below the waist of the wearer; the paws, with the claws attached, hung down over the thighs; the spots of the skin were manipulated so as to form five-pointed stars. On going out-of-doors, a large wrap was thrown over all; this covering was either smooth or hairy, similar to that in which the Nubians and Abyssinians of the present day envelop themselves. It could be draped in various ways; transversely over the left shoulder like the fringed shawl of the Chaldeans, or hanging straight from both shoulders like a mantle.[**]
** This costume, to which Egyptologists have not given sufficient attention, is frequently represented on the monuments. Besides the two statues reproduced above, I may cite those of Uahibri and of Thoth-nofir in the Louvre, and the Lady Nofrit in the Gizeh Museum. Thothotpu in his tomb wears this mantle. Khnumhotpu and several of his workmen are represented in it at Beni-Hasan, as also one of the princes of Elephantine in the recently discovered tombs, besides many Egyptians of all classes in the tombs of Thebes (a good example is in the tomb of Harmhabi). The reason why it does not figure more often is, in the first place, that the Egyptian artists experienced actual difficulty in representing the folds of its drapery, although these were simple compared with the complicated arrangement of the Roman toga; finally, the wall-paintings mostly portray either interior scenes, or agricultural labour, or the work of various trades, or episodes of war, or religious ceremonies, in all of which the mantle plays no part. Every Egyptian peasant, however, possessed his own, and it was in constant use in his daily life.
In fact, it did duty as a cloak, sheltering the wearer from the sun or from the rain, from the heat or from the cold. They never sought to transform it into a luxurious garment of state, as was the case in later times with the Roman toga, whose amplitude secured a certain dignity of carriage, and whose folds, carefully adjusted beforehand, fell around the body with studied grace. The Egyptian mantle when not required was thrown aside and folded up. The material being fine and soft it occupied but a small space and was reduced to a long thin roll; the ends being then fastened together, it was slung over the shoulder and round the body like a cavalry cloak.[*]
* Many draughtsmen, ignorant of what they had to represent, have made incorrect copies of the manner in which this cloak was worn; but examples of it are numerous, although until now attention has not been called to them. The following are a few instances taken at random of the way in which it was used: Pepi I., fighting against the nomads of Sinai, has the cloak, but with the two ends passed through the belt of his loin-cloth; at Zawyet el-Maiyitin, Khunas, killing birds with the boomerang from his boat, wears it, but simply thrown over the left shoulder, with the two extremities hanging free. Khnumhotpu at Beni-Hasan, the Khrihdbi, the overseers, or the peasants, all have it rolled and slung round them; the Prince of el-Bersheh wears it like a mantle in folds over the two shoulders. If it is objected that the material could not be reduced to such small dimensions as those represented in these drawings of what I believe to be the Egyptian cloak, I way cite our cavalry capes, when rolled and slung, as an instance of what good packing will do in reducing volume.
[Illustration: 070.jpg a dignitary wrapped in his large cloak.1]
1 Statue of Khiti in the Gizeh Museum (XIIth and XIIIth dynasties), drawn by Faucher-Gudin.
Travellers, shepherds, all those whose occupations called them to the fields, carried it as a bundle at the ends of their sticks; once arrived at the scene of their work, they deposited it in a corner with their provisions until they required it. The women were at first contented with a loin-cloth like that of the men; it was enlarged and lengthened till it reached the ankle below and the bosom above, and became a tightly fitting garment, with two bands over the shoulders, like braces, to keep it in place. The feet were not always covered; on certain occasions, however, sandals of coarse leather, plaited straw, split reed, or even painted wood, adorned those shapely Egyptian feet, which, to suit our taste, should be a little shorter.
[Illustration: 072.jpg COSTUME OF EGYPTIAN WOMAN, SPINNING.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from one of the spinning-women at the Paris Exhibition of 1889. It was restored from the paintings in the tomb of Khnumhotpu at Beni-Hasan.
Both men and women loved ornaments, and covered their necks, breasts, arms, wrists, and ankles with many rows of necklaces and bracelets. The bracelets were made of elephant ivory, mother-of-pearl, or even flint, very cleverly perforated. The necklaces were composed of strings of pierced shells,[**] interspersed with seeds and little pebbles, either sparkling or of unusual shapes.[***] Subsequently imitations in terra-cotta replaced the natural shells, and precious stones were substituted for pebbles, as were also beads of enamel, either round, pear-shaped, or cylindrical: the necklaces were terminated and a uniform distance maintained between the rows of beads, by several slips of wood, bone, ivory, porcelain, or terra-cotta, pierced with holes, through which ran the threads.
** The burying-places of Abydos, especially the most ancient, have furnished us with millions of shells, pierced and threaded as necklaces; they all belong to the species of cowries used as money in Africa at the present day.
*** Necklaces of seeds have been found in the tombs of Abydos, Thebes, and Gebelen. Of these Schweinfurth has identified, among others, the Cassia absus, |a weed of the Soudan whose seeds are sold in the drug bazaar at Cairo and Alexandria under the name of shishn, as a remedy, which is in great request among the natives, for ophthalmia.| For the necklaces of pebbles, cf. Maspeeo, Guide du visiteur, pp.270, 271, No.4129. A considerable number of these pebbles, particularly those of strange shape, or presenting a curious combination of colours, must have been regarded as amulets or fetishes by their Egyptian owners; analogous cases, among other peoples, have been pointed out by E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, vol. ii. p.189.
[Illustration: 073.jpg MAN WEARING WIG AND NECKLACES.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a portrait of Pharaoh Seti I. of the XIXth dynasty: the lower part of the necklace has been completed.
Weapons, at least among the nobility, were an indispensable part of costume. Most of them were for hand-to-hand fighting: sticks, clubs, lances furnished with a sharpened bone or stone point, axes and daggers of flint,[*] sabres and clubs of bone or wood variously shaped, pointed or rounded at the end, with blunt or sharp blades, -- inoffensive enough to look at, but, wielded by a vigorous hand, sufficient to break an arm, crush in the ribs, or smash a skull with all desirable precision.[**] The plain or triple curved bow was the favourite weapon for attack at a distance,[***] but in addition to this there were the sling, the javelin, and a missile almost forgotten nowadays, the boomerang, we have no proof however, that the Egyptians handled the boomerang[****] with the skill of the Australians, or that they knew how to throw it so as to bring it back to its point of departure.[v]
* In several museums, notably at Leyden, we find Egyptian axes of stone, particularly of serpentine, both rough and polished.
** In primitive times the bone of an animal served as a club. This is proved by the shape of the object held in the hand in the sign and the hieroglyph which is the determinative in writing for all ideas of violence or brute force, comes down to us from a time when the principal weapon was the club, or a bone serving as a club.
*** For the two principal shapes of the bow, see Lepsius, Der Bogen in der Hieroglypliik (Zeitschrift, 1872, pp.79- 88). From the earliest times the sign mL portrays the soldier equipped with the bow and bundle of arrows; the quiver was of Asiatic origin, and was not adopted until much later. In the contemporary texts of the first dynasties, the idea of weapons is conveyed by the bow, arrow, and club or axe.
**** The boomerang is still used by certain tribes of the Nile valley. It is portrayed in the most ancient tombs, and every museum possesses examples, varying in shape. Besides the ordinary boomerang, the Egyptians used one which ended in a knob, and another of semicircular shape: this latter, reproduced in miniature in cornelian or in red jasper, served as an amulet, and was placed on the mummy to furnish the deceased in the other world with a fighting or hunting weapon.
v The Australian boomerang is much larger than the Egyptian one; it is about a yard in length, two inches in width, and three sixteenths of an inch in thickness. For the manner of handling it, and what can be done with it, see Lubbock, Prehistoric Man, pp.402, 403.
[Illustration: 074.jpg the boomerang and FIGHTING bow.2 ]
2 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a painting in the tomb of Khnumhotpu at Beni-Hasan.
[Illustration: 075.jpg VOTIVE AXE.3]
3 The blade is of bronze, and is attached to the wooden handle by interlacing thongs of leather (Gizeh Museum). Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Emil Brugsch- Bey.
Such was approximately the most ancient equipment as far as we can ascertain; but at a very early date copper and iron were known in Egypt.[**] Long before historic times, the majority of the weapons in wood were replaced by those of metal, -- daggers, sabres, hatchets, which preserved, however, the shape of the old wooden instruments.
** Metals were introduced into Egypt in very ancient times, since the class of blacksmiths is associated with the worship of Horus of Edfu, and appears in the account of the mythical wars of that God. The earliest tools we possess, in copper or bronze, date from the IVth dynasty: pieces of iron have been found from time to time in the masonry of the Great Pyramid. Mons Montelius has again and again contested the authenticity of these discoveries, and he thinks that iron was not known in Egypt till a much later period.
Those wooden weapons which were retained, were used for hunting, or were only brought out on solemn occasions when tradition had to be respected. The war-baton became the commander's wand of authority, and at last degenerated into the walking-stick of the rich or noble.
[Illustration: 076.jpg KING HOLDING THE BATON.3]
3 Bas-relief in the temple of Luxor, from a photograph taken by Insinger in 1886.
The club at length represented merely the rank of a chieftain,[*] while the crook and the wooden-handled mace, with its head of ivory, diorite, granite, or white stone, the favourite weapons of princes, continued to the last the most revered insignia of royalty.[**]
Life was passed in comparative ease and pleasure. Of the ponds left in the open country by the river at its fall, some dried up more or less quickly during the winter, leaving on the soil an immense quantity of fish, the possession of which birds and wild beasts disputed with man.[***]
* The wooden club most commonly represented is the usual insignia of a nobleman. Several kinds of clubs, somewhat difficult for us moderns to distinguish, yet bearing different names, formed a part of funereal furniture.
** The crook is the sceptre of a prince, a Pharaoh, or a god; the white mace has still the value apparently of a weapon in the hands of the king who brandishes it over a group of prisoners or over an ox which he is sacrificing to a divinity. Most museums possess specimens of the stone heads of these maces, but until lately their use was not known. I had several placed in the Boulak Museum. It already possessed a model of one entirely of wood.
*** Cf. the description of these pools given by Geoffroy- Saint-Hilaire in speaking of the fahaka. Even at the present day the jackals come down from the mountains in the night, and regale themselves with the fish left on the ground by the gradual drying up of these ponds.
[Illustration: 077.jpg FISHING IN THE MARSHES]
Other pools, however, remained till the returning inundation, as so many vivaria in which the fish were preserved for dwellers on the banks. Fishing with the harpoon, made either of stone or of metal, with the line, with a net or with traps, were all methods of fishing known and used by the Egyptians from early times. Where the ponds failed, the neighbouring Nile furnished them with inexhaustible supplies. Standing in light canoes, or rather supported by a plank on bundles of reeds bound together, they ventured into mid-stream, in spite of the danger arising from the ever-present hippopotamus; or they penetrated up the canals amid a thicket of aquatic plants, to bring down with the boomerang the birds which found covert there.
[Illustration: 078.jpg HUNTING IN THE MARSHES: ENCOUNTERING AND SPEARING A HIPPOPOTAMUS.1]
1 Tomb of Ti. Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from Dumichen, Besultate, vol. ii. pl. x.
The fowl and fish which could not be eaten fresh, were dried, salted, or smoked, and kept for a rainy day. Like the river, the desert had its perils and its resources. Only too frequently, the lion, the leopard, the panther, and other large felidse were met with there.
[Illustration: 079.jpg HUNTING IN THE DESERT: BULL, LION, AND ORYX PIERCED WITH ARROWS.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a painting by Beni-Hasan, Lepsius, Denhm., ii.136.
2 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bas-relief of Ptahhotpu. The dogs on the upper level are of hyenoid type, those on the lower are Abyssinian greyhounds.
The nobles, like the Pharaohs of later times, deemed it as their privilege or duty to stalk and destroy these animals, pursuing them even to their dens. The common people preferred attacking the gazelle, the oryx, the mouflon sheep, the ibex, the wild ox, and the ostrich, but did not disdain more humble game, such as the porcupine and long-eared hare: nondescript packs, in which the jackal and the hyena ran side by side with the wolf-dog and the lithe Abyssinian greyhound, scented and retrieved for their master the prey which he had pierced with his arrows. At times a hunter, returning with the dead body of the mother, would be followed by one of her young; or a gazelle, but slightly wounded, would be taken to the village and healed of its hurt.
[Illustration: 080.jpg CATCHING ANIMALS WITH THE BOLA.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a bas-relief of Ptahhotpu. Above are seen two porcupines, the foremost of which, emerging from his hole, has seized a grasshopper.
Such animals by daily contact with man, were gradually tamed, and formed about his dwelling a motley flock, kept partly for his pleasure and mostly for his profit, and becoming in case of necessity a ready stock of provisions.[**]
** In the same way, before the advent of Europeans, the half-civilized tribes of North America used to keep about their huts whole flocks of different animals, which were tame, but not domesticated.
Efforts were therefore made to enlarge this flock, and the wish to procure animals without seriously injuring them, caused the Egyptians to use the net for birds and the lasso and the bola for quadrupeds,[*] -- weapons less brutal than the arrow and the javelin. The bola was made by them of a single rounded stone, attached to a strap about five yards in length. The stone once thrown, the cord twisted round the legs, muzzle, or neck of the animal pursued, and by the attachment thus made the pursuer, using all his strength, was enabled to bring the beast down half strangled. The lasso has no stone attached to it, but a noose prepared beforehand, and the skill of the hunter consists in throwing it round the neck of his victim while running. They caught indifferently, without distinction of size or kind, all that chance brought within their reach. The daily chase kept up these half-tamed flocks of gazelles, wild goats, water-bucks, stocks, and ostriches, and their numbers are reckoned by hundreds on the monuments of the ancient empire.[**]
* Hunting with the bola is constantly represented in the paintings both of the Memphite and Theban periods. Wilkinson has confounded it with lasso-hunting, and his mistake has been reproduced by other Egyptologists. Lasso-hunting is seen in Lepsius, Denhn., ii.96, in Dumichen, resultate, vol. i. pl. viii., and particularly in the numerous sacrificial scenes where the king is supposed to be capturing the bull of the north or south, previous to offering it to the god.
** As the tombs of the ancient empire show us numerous flocks of gazelles, antelopes, and storks, feeding under the care of shepherds, Fr. Lenormant concluded that the Egyptians of early times had succeeded in domesticating some species, nowadays rebels to restraint. It is my belief that the animals represented were tamed, but not domesticated, and were the result of great hunting expeditions in the desert. The facts which Lenormant brought forward to support his theory may be used against him. For instance, the fawn of the gazelle nourished by its mother does not prove that it was bred in captivity; the gazelle may have been caught before calving, or just after the birth of its young. The fashion of keeping flocks of animals taken from the desert died out between the XIIth and XVIIIth dynasties. At the time of the new empire, they had only one or two solitary animals as pets for women or children, the mummies of which were sometimes buried by the side of their mistresses.
Experience alone taught the hunter to distinguish between those species from which he could draw profit, and others whose wildness made them impossible to domesticate. The subjection of the most useful kinds had not been finished when the historic period opened.
[Illustration: 082.jpg A SWINEHERD AND HIS PIGS.2]
2 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a painting in a Theban tomb of the XVIIIth dynasty.
The ass, the sheep, and the goat were already domesticated, but the pig was still out in the marshes in a semi-wild state, under the care of special herdsmen,[*] and the religious rites preserved the remembrance of the times in which the ox was so little tamed, that in order to capture while grazing the animals needed for sacrifice or for slaughter, it was necessary to use the lasso.[***]
* The hatred of the Egyptians for the pig (Herodotus, ii.47) is attributed to mythological motives. Lippert thinks this antipathy did not exist in Egypt in primitive times. At the outset the pig would have been the principal food of the people; then, like the dog in other regions, it must have been replaced at the table by animals of a higher order -- gazelles, sheep, goats, oxen -- and would have thus fallen into contempt. To the excellent reasons given by Lippert could be added others drawn from the study of the Egyptian myths, to prove that the pig has often been highly esteemed. Thus, Isis is represented, down to late times, under the form of a sow, and a sow, whether followed or not by her young is one of the amulets placed in the tomb with the deceased, to secure for him the protection of the goddess.
*** Mariette, Abydos (vol. i. pl.48 b, 53). To prevent the animal from evading the lasso and escaping during the sacrifice, its right hind foot was fastened to its left horn.
Europeans are astonished to meet nowadays whole peoples who make use of herbs and plants whose flavour and properties are nauseating to us: these are mostly so many legacies from a remote past; for example, castor-oil, with which the Berbers rub their limbs, and with which the fellahin of the Said flavour their bread and vegetables, was preferred before all others by the Egyptians of the Pharaonic age for anointing the body and for culinary use.[*] They had begun by eating indiscriminately every kind of fruit which the country produced. Many of these, when their therapeutic virtues had been learned by experience, were gradually banished as articles of food, and their use restricted to medicine; others fell into disuse, and only reappeared at sacrifices, or at funeral feasts; several varieties continue to be eaten to the present time -- the acid fruits of the nabeca and of the carob tree, the astringent figs of the sycamore, the insipid pulp of the dam-palm, besides those which are pleasant to our Western palates, such as the common fig and the date. The vine flourished, at least in Middle and Lower Egypt; from time immemorial the art of making wine from it was known, and even the most ancient monuments enumerate half a dozen famous brands, red or white.[**]
* I have often been obliged, from politeness, when dining with the native agents appointed by the European powers at Port Said, to eat salads and mayonnaise sauces flavoured with castor-oil; the taste was not so disagreeable as might be at first imagined.
** The four kinds of canonical wine, brought respectively from the north, south, east, and west of the country, formed part of the official repast and of the wine-cellar of the deceased from remote antiquity.
Vetches, lupins, beans, chick-peas, lentils, onions, fenugreek,[*] the bamia,[**] the meloukhia,[***] the arum colocasia, all grew wild in the fields, and the river itself supplied its quota of nourishing plants.
* All these species have been found in the tombs and identified by savants in archaeological botany -- Kunth, Unger, Schweinfurth (Loret, La Flore Pharaonique, pp.17, 40, 42, 43, Nos.33, 97, 102, 104, 105, 106).
** The bamia, Hibiscus esculentus, L., is a plant of the family of the Malvaceae, having a fruit of five divisions, covered with prickly hairs, and pontaining round, white, soft seeds, slightly sweet, but astringent in taste, and very mucilaginous. It figures on the monuments of Pharaonic times.
*** The meloukhia, Corchorus Olitorius, L., is a plant belonging to the Tilliacese, which is chopped up and cooked much the same as endive is with us, but which few Europeans can eat with pleasure, owing to the mucilage it contains. Theophrastus says it was celebrated for its bitterness; it was used as food, however, in the Greek town of Alexandria.
[Illustration: 084.jpg THE EGYPTIAN LOTUS.4]
4 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin from the Description de
l'Egypte, Histoire Naturelle, pl.61.
Two of the species of lotus which grew in the Nile, the white and the blue, have seed-vessels similar to those of the poppy: the capsules contain small grains of the size of millet-seed. The fruit of the pink lotus |grows on a different stalk from that of the flower, and springs directly from the root; it resembles a honeycomb in form,| or, to take a more prosaic simile, the rose of a watering-pot. The upper part has twenty or thirty cavities, |each containing a seed as big as an olive stone, and pleasant to eat either fresh or dried.| This is what the ancients called the bean of Egypt. |The yearly shoots of the papyrus are also gathered. After pulling them up in the marshes, the points are cut off and rejected, the part remaining being about a cubit in length. It is eaten as a delicacy and is sold in the markets, but those who are fastidious partake of it only after baking.| Twenty different kinds of grain and fruits, prepared by crushing between two stones, are kneaded and baked to furnish cakes or bread; these are often mentioned in the texts as cakes of nabeca, date cakes, and cakes of figs. Lily loaves, made from the roots and seeds of the lotus, were the delight of the gourmand, and appear on the tables of the kings of the XIXth dynasty.[*]
* Tiu, which is the most ancient word for bread, appears in early times to have been used for every kind of paste, whether made with fruits or grain; the more modern word aqu applies specially to bread made from cereals. The lily loaves are mentioned in the Papyrus Anastasi, No.4, p.14.1.1.
Bread and cakes made of cereals formed the habitual food of the people. Durrah is of African origin; it is the |grain of the South| of the inscriptions. On the other hand, it is supposed that wheat and six-rowed barley came from the region of the Euphrates. Egypt was among the first to procure and cultivate them.[*] The soil there is so kind to man, that in many places no agricultural toil is required.
* The position which wheat and barley occupy in the lists of offerings, proves the antiquity of their existence in Egypt. Mariette found specimens of barley in the tombs of the Ancient Empire at Saqqarah.
[Illustration: 086.jpg THE EGYPTIAN HOE.2]
2 Bas-relief from the tomb of Ti; drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Emil Brugsch-Bey.
As soon as the water of the Nile retires, the ground is sown without previous preparation, and the grain, falling straight into the mud, grows as vigorously as in the best-ploughed furrows. Where the earth is hard it is necessary to break it up, but the extreme simplicity of the instruments with which this was done shows what a feeble resistance it offered. For a long time the hoe sufficed. It was composed either of a large stone tied to a wooden handle, or was made of two pieces of wood of unequal length, united at one of their extremities, and held together towards the middle by a slack cord: the plough, when first invented was but a slightly enlarged hoe, drawn by oxen. The cultivation of cereals, once established on the banks of the Nile, developed, from earliest times, to such a degree as to supplant all else: hunting, fishing, the rearing of cattle, occupied but a secondary place compared with agriculture, and Egypt became, that which she still remains, a vast granary of wheat. The part of the valley first cultivated was from Gebel Silsileh to the apex of the Delta.[*]
* This was the tradition of all the ancients. Herodotus related that, according to the Egyptians, the whole of Egypt, with the exception of the Theban nome, was a vast swamp previous to the time of Menes. Aristotle adds that the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the area now occupied by the Delta, formed one sea. Cf. pp.3-5 of this volume, on the formation of the Delta.
[Illustration: 087.jpg PLOUGHING.2]
2 Bas-relief from the tomb of Ti; drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Emil Brugsch-Bey.
Between the Libyan and Arabian ranges it presents a slightly convex surface, furrowed lengthways by a depression, in the bottom of which the Nile is gathered and enclosed when the inundation is over. In the summer, as soon as the river had risen higher than the top of its banks, the water rushed by the force of gravity towards the lower lands, hollowing in its course long channels, some of which never completely dried up, even when the Nile reached its lowest level.[*] Cultivation was easy in the neighbourhood of these natural reservoirs, but everywhere else the movements of the river were rather injurious than advantageous to man. The inundation scarcely ever covered the higher ground in the valley, which therefore remained unproductive; it flowed rapidly over the lands of medium elevation, and moved so sluggishly in the hollows that they became weedy and stagnant pools.[**]
* The whole description of the damage which can be done by the Nile in places where the inundation is not regulated, is borrowed from Linant de Bellefonds, Memoire sur les principaux travaux d'utilite publique, p.3.
** This physical configuration of the country explains the existence at a very early date of those gigantic serpents which I have already mentioned.
[Illustration: 089.jpg AN EGYPTIAN SAKIA (WELL) SHOWING METHOD OF PROCURING WATER FOR IRRIGATION.]
In any year the portion not watered by the river was invaded by the sand: from the lush vegetation of a hot country, there was but one step to absolute aridity. At the present day an ingeniously established system of irrigation allows the agriculturist to direct and distribute the overflow according to his needs. From Gebel Ain to the sea, the Nile and its principal branches are bordered by long dykes, which closely follow the windings of the river and furnish sufficiently stable embankments. Numerous canals lead off to right and left, directed more or less obliquely towards the confines of the valley; they are divided at intervals by fresh dykes, starting at the one side from the river, and ending on the other either at the Bahr Yusuf or at the rising of the desert. Some of these dykes protect one district only, and consist merely of a bank of earth; others command a large extent of territory, and a breach in them would entail the ruin of an entire province. These latter are sometimes like real ramparts, made of crude brick carefully cemented; a few, as at Qosheish, have a core of hewn stones, which later generations have covered with masses of brickwork, and strengthened with constantly renewed buttresses of earth. They wind across the plain with many unexpected and apparently aimless turns; on closer examination, however, it may be seen that this irregularity is not to be attributed to ignorance or caprice. Experience had taught the Egyptians the art of picking out, upon the almost imperceptible relief of the soil, the easiest lines to use against the inundation: of these they have followed carefully the sinuosities, and if the course of the dykes appears singular, it is to be ascribed to the natural configuration of the ground. Subsidiary embankments thrown up between the principal ones, and parallel to the Nile, separate the higher ground bordering the river from the low lands on the confines of the valley; they divide the larger basins into smaller divisions of varying area, in which the irrigation is regulated by means of special trenches. As long as the Nile is falling, the dwellers on its banks leave their canals in free communication with it; but they dam them up towards the end of the winter, just before the return of the inundation, and do not reopen them till early in August, when the new flood is at its height. The waters then flowing in by the trenches are arrested by the nearest transverse dyke and spread over the fields. When they have stood there long enough to saturate the ground, the dyke is pierced, and they pour into the next basin until they are stopped by a second dyke, which in its turn forces them again to spread out on either side. This operation is renewed from dyke to dyke, till the valley soon becomes a series of artificial ponds, ranged one above another, and flowing one into another from Grebel Silsileh to the apex of the Delta. In autumn, the mouth of each ditch is dammed up anew, in order to prevent the mass of water from flowing back into the stream. The transverse dykes, which have been cut in various places, are also repaired, and the basins become completely landlocked, separated by narrow causeways. In some places, the water thus imprisoned is so shallow that it is soon absorbed by the soil; in others, it is so deep, that after it has been kept in for several weeks, it is necessary to let it run off into a neighbouring depression, or straight into the river itself.
[Illustration: 091.jpg BOATMEN FIGHTING ON A CANAL COMMUNICATING WITH THE NILE.1]
1 Bas-relief from the tomb of Ti; drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by E. Brugsch-Bey.
History has left us no account of the vicissitudes of the struggle in which the Egyptians were engaged with the Nile, nor of the time expended in bringing it to a successful issue. Legend attributes the idea of the system and its partial working out to the god Osiris: then Menes, the first mortal king, is said to have made the dyke of Qosheish, on which depends the prosperity of the Delta and Middle Egypt, and the fabulous Mceris is supposed to have extended the blessings of the irrigation to the Fayum. In reality, the regulation of the inundation and the making of cultivable land are the work of unrecorded generations who peopled the valley. The kings of the historic period had only to maintain and develop certain points of what had already been done, and Upper Egypt is to this day chequered by the network of waterways with which its earliest inhabitants covered it. The work must have begun simultaneously at several points, without previous agreement, and, as it were, instinctively. A dyke protecting a village, a canal draining or watering some small province, demanded the efforts of but few individuals; then the dykes would join one another, the canals would be prolonged till they met others, and the work undertaken by chance would be improved, and would spread with the concurrence of an ever-increasing population. What happened at the end of last century, shows us that the system grew and was developed at the expense of considerable quarrels and bloodshed. The inhabitants of each district carried out the part of the work most conducive to their own interest, seizing the supply of water, keeping it and discharging it at pleasure, without considering whether they were injuring their neighbours by depriving them of their supply or by flooding them; hence arose perpetual strife and fighting. It became imperative that the rights of the weaker should be respected, and that the system of distribution should be co-ordinated, for the country to accept a beginning at least of social organization analogous to that which it acquired later: the Nile thus determined the political as well as the physical constitution of Egypt.
[Illustration: 092.jpg A GREAT EGYPTIAN LORD, TI, AND HIS WIFE.1]
1 Drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photograph by Dumichen, Resultate, vol. ii. pl. vit
The country was divided among communities, whose members were supposed to be descended from the same seed (pait) and to belong to the same family (paitu): the chiefs of them were called ropaitu, the guardians, or pastors of the family, and in later times their name became a title applicable to the nobility in general. Families combined and formed groups of various importance under the authority of a head chief -- ropaitu-ha. They were, in fact, hereditary lords, dispensing justice, levying taxes in kind on their subordinates, reserving to themselves the redistribution of land, leading their men to, battle, and sacrificing to the gods.[*] The territories over which they exercised authority formed small states, whose boundaries even now, in some places, can be pointed out with certainty. The principality of the Terebinth[**] occupied the very heart of Egypt, where the valley is widest, and the course of the Nile most advantageously disposed by nature -- a country well suited to be the cradle of an infant civilization. Siaut (Siut), the capital, is built almost at the foot of the Libyan range, on a strip of land barely a mile in width, which separates the river from the hills. A canal surrounds it on three sides, and makes, as it were, a natural ditch about its walls; during the inundation it is connected with the mainland only by narrow causeways -- shaded with mimosas -- and looking like a raft of verdure aground in the current.[***]
* These prerogatives were still exercised by the princes of the nomes under the Middle and New Empires; they only enjoyed them then by the good will of the reigning
** The Egyptian word for the tree which gives its name to this principality is atf, iatf, iotf: it is only by a process of elimination that I have come to identify it with the Pistacia Terebinthus, L., which furnished the Egyptians with the scented resin snutir.
*** Boudier's drawing, reproduced on p.31, and taken from a photograph by Beato, gives most faithfully the aspect presented by the plain and the modern town of Siout during the inundation.
[Illustration: 094.jpg NOMES OF MIDDLE EGYPT]
The site is as happy as it is picturesque; not only does the town command the two arms of the river, opening or closing the waterway at will, but from time immemorial the most frequented of the routes into Central Africa has terminated at its gates, bringing to it the commerce of the Soudan. It held sway, at the outset, over both banks, from range to range, northward as far as Deyrut, where the true Bahr Yusuf leaves the Nile, and southward to the neighbourhood of Gebel Sheikh Haridi. The extent and original number of the other principalities is not so easily determined.
The most important, to the north of Siut, were those of the Hare and the Oleander. The principality of the Hare never reached the dimensions of that of its neighbour the Terebinth, but its chief town was Khmunu, whose antiquity was so remote, that a universally accepted tradition made it the scene of the most important acts of creation.[*] That of the Oleander, on the contrary, was even larger than that of the Terebinth, and from Hininsu, its chief governor ruled alike over the marshes of the Fayum and the plains of Beni-Suef.[**] To the south, Apu on the right bank governed a district so closely shut in between a bend of the Nile and two spurs of the range, that its limits have never varied much since ancient times. Its inhabitants were divided in their employment between weaving and the culture of cereals. From early times they possessed the privilege of furnishing clothing to a large part of Egypt, and their looms, at the present day, still make those checked or striped |melayahs| which the fellah women wear over their long blue tunics.[***]
* Khmunu, the present Ashmunein, is the Hermopolis of the Greeks, the town of the god Thot.
** Hininsu is the Heraecleopolis Magna of the Greeks, the present Henassieh, called also Ahnas-el-Medineh. The Egyptian word for the tree which gives its name to this principality, is Narit. Loret has shown that this tree, Narit, is the oleander.
*** Apu was the Panopolis or Chemmis of the Greeks, the town of the god Min or ithyphallic Khimu. Its manufactures of linen are mentioned by Strabo; the majority of the beautiful Coptic woven fabrics and embroideries which have been brought to Europe lately, come from the necropolis of the Arab period at Apu.
Beyond Apu, Thinis, the Girgeh of the Arabs, situate on both banks of the river, rivalled Khmunu in antiquity and Siut in wealth: its plains still produce the richest harvests and feed the most numerous herds of sheep and oxen in the Said.
[Illustration: 096.jpg NOMES OF UPPER EGYPT]
As we approach the cataract, information becomes scarcer. Qubti and Aunu of the South, the Coptos and Hermonthis of the Greeks, shared peaceably the plain occupied later on by Thebes and its temples, and Nekhabit and Zobu watched over the safety of Egypt. Nekhabit soon lost its position as a frontier town, and that portion of Nubia lying between Gebel Silsileh and the rapids of Syene formed a kind of border province, of which Nubit-Ombos was the principal sanctuary and Abu-Elephantine the fortress: beyond this were the barbarians, and those inaccessible regions whence the Nile descended upon our earth.
The organization of the Delta, it would appear, was more slowly brought about. It must have greatly resembled that of the lowlands of Equatorial Africa, towards the confluence of the Bahr el Abiad and the Bahr el Ghazal. Great tracts of mud, difficult to describe as either solid or liquid, marshes dotted here and there with sandy islets, bristling with papyrus reeds, water-lilies, and enormous plants through which the arms of the Nile sluggishly pushed their ever-shifting course, low-lying wastes intersected with streams and pools, unfit for cultivation and scarcely available for pasturing cattle. The population of such districts, engaged in a ceaseless struggle with nature, always preserved relatively ruder manners, and a more rugged and savage character, impatient of all authority. The conquest of this region began from the outer edge only. A few principalities were established at the apex of the Delta in localities where the soil had earliest been won from the river. It appears that one of these divisions embraced the country south of and between the bifurcation of the Nile: Aunu of the North, the Heliopolis of the Greeks, was its capital. In very early times the principality was divided, and formed three new states, independent of each other. Those of Aunu and the Haunch were opposite to each other, the first on the Arabian, the latter on the Libyan bank of the Nile. The district of the White Wall marched with that of the Haunch on the north, and on the south touched the territory of the Oleander. Further down the river, between the more important branches, the governors of Sai's and of Bubastis, of Athribis and of Busiris, shared among themselves the primitive Delta. Two frontier provinces of unequal size, the Arabian on the east in the Wady Tumilat, and the Libyan on the west to the south of Lake Mareotis, defended the approaches of the country from the attacks of Asiatic Bedawins and of African nomads. The marshes of the interior and the dunes of the littoral, were not conducive to the development of any great industry or civilization. They only comprised tracts of thinly populated country, like the principalities of the Harpoon and of the Cow, and others whose limits varied from century to century with the changing course of the river. The work of rendering the marshes salubrious and of digging canals, which had been so successful in the Nile Valley, was less efficacious in the Delta, and proceeded more slowly. Here the embankments were not supported by a mountain chain: they were continued at random across the marshes, cut at every turn to admit the waters of a canal or of an arm of the river. The waters left their usual bed at the least disturbing influence, and made a fresh course for themselves across country. If the inundation were delayed, the soft and badly drained soil again became a slough: should it last but a few weeks longer than usual, the work of several generations was for a long time undone. The Delta of one epoch rarely presented the same aspect as that of previous periods, and Northern Egypt never became as fully mistress of her soil as the Egypt of the south.
[Illustration: 099.jpg NOMES OF LOWER EGYPT]
These first principalities, however small they appear to us, were yet too large to remain undivided. In those times of slow communication, the strong attraction which a capital exercised over the provinces under its authority did not extend over a wide radius. That part of the population of the Terebinth, living sufficiently near to Siut to come into the town for a few hours in the morning, returning in the evening to the villages when business was done, would not feel any desire to withdraw from the rule of the prince who governed there. On the other hand, those who lived outside that restricted circle were forced to seek elsewhere some places of assembly to attend the administration of justice, to sacrifice in common to the national gods, and to exchange the produce of the fields and of local manufactures. Those towns which had the good fortune to become such rallying-points naturally played the part of rivals to the capital, and their chiefs, with the district whose population, so to speak, gravitated around them, tended to become independent of the prince. When they succeeded in doing this, they often preserved for the new state thus created, the old name, slightly modified by the addition of an epithet. The primitive territory of Siut was in this way divided into three distinct communities; two, which remained faithful to the old emblem of the tree -- the Upper Terebinth, with Siut itself in the centre, and the Lower Terebinth, with Kusit to the north; the third, in the south and east, took as their totem the immortal serpent which dwelt in their mountains, and called themselves the Serpent Mountain, whose chief town was that of the Sparrow Hawk. The territory of the Oleander produced by its dismemberment the principality of the Upper Oleander, that of the Lower Oleander, and that of the Knife. The territory of the Harpoon in the Delta divided itself into the Western and Eastern Harpoon. The fission in most cases could not have been accomplished without struggles; but it did take place, and all the principalities having a domain of any considerable extent had to submit to it, however they may have striven to avoid it. This parcelling out was continued as circumstances afforded opportunity, until the whole of Egypt, except the half desert districts about the cataract, became but an agglomeration of petty states nearly equal in power and population.[*]
* Examples of the subdivision of ancient nomes and the creation of fresh nomes are met with long after primitive times. We find, for example, the nome of the Western Harpoon divided under the Greeks and Romans into two districts -- that of the Harpoon proper, of which the chief town was Sonti- nofir; and that of Ranunr, with the Onuphis of classical geographers for its capital.
The Greeks called them nomes, and we have borrowed the word from them; the natives named them in several ways, the most ancient term being |nuit,| which may be translated domain, and the most common appellation in recent times being |hospu,| which signifies district. The number of the nomes varied considerably in the course of centuries: the hieroglyphic monuments and classical authors fixed them sometimes at thirty-six, sometimes at forty, sometimes at forty-four, or even fifty. The little that we know of their history, up to the present time, explains the reason of this variation. Ceaselessly quarrelled over by the princely families who possessed them, the nomes were alternately humbled and exalted by civil wars, marriages, and conquest, which caused them continually to pass into fresh hands, either entire or divided. The Egyptians, whom we are accustomed to consider as a people respecting the established order of things, and conservative of ancient tradition, showed themselves as restless and as prone to modify or destroy the work of the past, as the most inconstant of our modern nations. The distance of time which separates them from us, and the almost complete absence of documents, gives them an appearance of immobility, by which we are liable to be unconsciously deceived; when the monuments still existing shall have been unearthed, their history will present the same complexity of incidents, the same agitations, the same instability, which we suspect or know to have been characteristic of most other Oriental nations. One thing alone remained stable among them in the midst of so many revolutions, and which prevented them from losing their individuality and from coalescing in a common unity. This was the belief in and the worship of one particular deity. If the little capitals of the petty states whose origin is lost in a remote past -- Edfu and Denderah, Nekhabit and Buto, Siufc, Thinis, Khmunu, Sais, Bubastis, Athribis -- had only possessed that importance which resulted from the presence of an ambitious petty prince, or from the wealth of their inhabitants, they would never have passed safe and sound through the long centuries of existence which they enjoyed from the opening to the close of Egyptian history. Fortune raised their chiefs, some even to the rank of rulers of the world, and in turn abased them: side by side with the earthly ruler, whose glory was but too often eclipsed, there was enthroned in each nome a divine ruler, a deity, a god of the domain, |nutir nuiti,| whose greatness never perished. The princely families might be exiled or become extinct, the extent of the territory might diminish or increase, the town might be doubled in size and population or fall in ruins: the god lived on through all these vicissitudes, and his presence alone preserved intact the rights of the state over which he reigned as sovereign. If any disaster befell his worshippers, his temple was the spot where the survivors of the catastrophe rallied around him, their religion preventing them from mixing with the inhabitants of neighbouring towns and from becoming lost among them. The survivors multiplied with that extraordinary rapidity which is the characteristic of the Egyptian fellah, and a few years of peace sufficed to repair losses which apparently were irreparable. Local religion was the tie which bound together those divers elements of which each principality was composed, and as long as it remained, the nomes remained; when it vanished, they disappeared with it.
[Illustration: 105.jpg PAGE IMAGE]
[Illustration: 106.jpg PAGE IMAGE]