Common (ish) perceptions of the ancient world.
What’s Your Civ?
Back in 2012 I offered my small pool of followers the chance to take part in a small experiment I called “What’s Your Civ?”. A kitch hashtag I thought up which tells you as much about my own social media naivety back then as it does anything else. But the idea was to then do a post about the results, highlighting people’s perceptions of past civilisations. Continue reading “By harking back to Greece and Rome we are winking at the Spynx.”
Had this man been Greek, he’d have been turned into a Demi-god to rival some of the greatest in the heroic pantheon.
The Greatest Warrior.
How a man in his eighties could have the strength to engage, let alone capture, a Syrian chariot and its crew was beyond most of the new recruits. But then again Ahmose son of Abana had always defied simple explanation, for what it was worth he never gave any, for he proved his worth in deeds. The ancient old warrior, still lean and driven by an inner force that might have rivalled Pharaoh’s own divine spirit, lead his captives bound in their chariot to the presence of Thutmose I with the confidence of one used to being in the close proximity of royalty.
But he was tired. It was his boast, for he was not a humble man just a simple one, that he was in the front rank in all Pharaoh’s battles, and further that three monarchs, including the present incumbent of the throne of Horus, had witnessed his deeds at first hand. Such stress and hardship were bound to take their toll and as Ahmose watched the victory stele installed on the far bank of the Euphrates, he knew that this would be his final campaign.
He was descended from a military family, though he preferred to call himself the son of his mother, his father, Baba son of Rainet had been a soldier under Sekenra and was a scion of the nomarchs of Nekheb. As a boy Ahmose therefore was destined for a career in arms, and had taken his father’s place as a boy, sleeping in the hammocks of the ship Wild Bull during the reign of Ahmose I.
In those days Egypt was a nation under occupation. The whole of the North, the fertile delta, was under the control of the Hyksos, a mysterious “asiatic” people who had devastated the country. However the Warriors Kings of the 18th dynasty were of a different stamp to those that had come before them, Ahmose I was such a king and he was on the lookout for active young men to help him drive the invader out and liberate Egypt.
In the year Pharaoh besieged the city of Avaris, Ahmose was a chariot runner to the king, and in the initial skirmishes he distinguished himself in hand to hand combat under his master’s eye. Avarice was situated on one of the easternmost tributaries of the Delta, the lush head of papyrus that surmounts the winding stem of the Nile. Ahmose was soon transferred to the Rising in Memphis, and took part in the bitter struggle to seize the canals, as the fleet strove to cut the city off from supplies. In this action he took his first hand, earning him the “gold of valour”, a feat he would repeat 7 times in his career.
Although he would fight the Hyksos again, the majority of his career would be spent fighting Kushites in Nubia and suppressing rebels and invaders from the desert. Under Ahmose I, Amunhotep I and Thutmose I Ahmose found himself in the thick of Egypt’s territorial wars against the powerful Kingdom of Kush, whose formidable bowmen were incorporated into the Egyptian army, but whose kings rose in perpetual wars against Egypt’s southern border. In suppressing a southern rebellion Ahmose dove into the Nile to pursue a fleeing enemy chief who he then dragged in dripping defeat before Pharaoh.
By the Nubian campaign of Thutmose I, Ahmose was the greatest warrior in the land, endowed with land, slaves and titles. The new pharaoh made him commander of his war barge. In the main battle of the campaign Ahmose fought courageously in the presence of his king, and presented him with two hands after the pursuit had obliterated the enemy field army. Ahmose was raised to the rank of Crew Commander (which is interpreted to mean admiral). The Kushites then met the Egyptians on the water and were broken. Pharaoh had Amhose steer his ship against the enemy flagship and the old admiral watched from Pharaoh’s side with satisfaction as Thutmose took a javelin, drew back his arm and with a sure eye flung his spear (some translate arrow), which a moment later resolved itself as a quivering shaft in the chest of the enemy chief. After processing to the 3rd cataract, with the Nubian’s corpse dangling by his feet from the prow Thutmose returned to Karnak and then campaigned in Syria.
The 90 year old legend, Ahmose put down his weapons and lived out the remainder of his life in comfort, perhaps able to see his grandchildren before having “reached old age. Favoured as before, and loved I rest in the tomb that I myself made”.
Sources: Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Toby Wilkinson. The Splendour that was Egypt: Margaret Murray. Funerary inscriptions respective to subject found at reshafim.org . The Nile and Egyptian civilisation: A. Moret. Ancient Records of Egypt: James Breasted. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson. Soldier of the Pharaoh: Nic Field.
See you again for another adventure in Historyland.
The sound and aroma of three hundred mules was a shocking assault of noise, dust and smell. The braying line of animals were still arriving behind the arrayed ranks of Egyptians and the Yamites, when the Chiefs of Irthet, Sethu and Wawat submitted. Privy Councillor of Southern affairs, Sole companion to Pharaoh, Harkhuf had many Impressive titles with which to awe the southern Chiefs. Quite apart from the lavish goods his mules were carrying, and the glinting spears of his army, this emissary carried the writ of the King of Egypt. Yet for all that he was probably most proud of his title as Caravan Conductor (Though Wilkinson calls him Chief of Scouts). It was a difficult job, requiring initiative, sound judgment, military capability and diplomatic tact. The Egyptian state joyed in endowing multiple functions to one body, the Old Kingdom especially loved to bestow cart loads of titles on efficient bureaucrats. A conductor’s prime objective was to take caravans of trade goods to foreign nations and return with tribute, to show the flag and assert dominance, and make exchange for tokens of good will, showing Egypt’s vested interest in a country. If the recipient was not inclined to go through this formalised sucking up ritual, the conductor was always given a hefty bodyguard with which to convince him.
Harkhuf’s father had been a conductor, and though it was challenging work, it was a position of great trust, as it was also essentially a security job, and so if a man was good at it he could expect rewards commensurate with the responsibility. Harkhuf could say that in addition to his academic exploits, (he was a Nekhen Judge), he had seen much more of the world, and embarked on more adventures than many Egyptians. At first he had learned on the job, watching his father, then Harkhuf had led his own convoys to explore the desert roads, watched over by the paternal eye until, Pharaoh Merenra deemed him competent enough to make the expedition to the land of Yam without supervision. As a large part of his job was to sniff out trouble and spy out the land, he had got wind of trouble brewing in lower Nubia. This was his third expedition, but in order to avoid the hostile tribes Harkhouf had taken the desert route reaching Yam only to find the chief was off on campaign in Libya. After tracking him down and collecting extra troops he made his way back via the regular route, to overawe the troublemaking, Chiefs, who now, seeing his assembled forces and rich baggage, submitted to him.
The chief of Irthet had his people gather the herds, and from them they cut out some Bulls and young cattle for Harkhuf to take with him, perhaps as exchange for the gifts of ebony, panther skins and Ivory offered by the conductor. After they had rested the chief guided them into the highlands.
Harkhouf was a pious, fair and serious man, who never spoke nonsense but was temperate in nature, subordinates would be unlikely to fear a tongue lashing from the boss. Harkhouf was probably one of those leaders who’s gentle reprove was worse than a dozen beatings, because he treated everyone fairly.
The journey to Yam became something of an annual event to ensure good relations. And a profitable exchange of goods took place between Harkhouf and the Chief. During his fourth expedition he sent a letter back to the 8 year old Pepi II, telling him of the dancing dwarf he had obtained. The young boy was filled with excitement which spilled over the royal reserve of a king god in his return letter, which promised rich rewards if Harkhouf returned with the the diminutive hoofer alive and well.
At his death Harkhouf was interred in his own tomb, upon whose walls he wrote of his life, and promised that passers by who respect its owner would be looked on favourably from the reaches of the other world.
Sources: Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Toby Wilkinson. The Splendour that was Egypt: Margaret Murray. Funerary inscriptions respective to subject found at reshafim.org . The Nile and Egyptian civilisation: A. Moret. Ancient Records of Egypt: James Breasted. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson. Soldier of the Pharaoh: Nic Field
Thanks for reading. See you again for another adventure in Historyland. Josh.
Ancient Egyptian history is much more than just Pharaoh’s. Tomb discoveries have revealed the professional lives of many of officials, soldiers and nobles, some born into positions, some who worked their way up the ladder, most of whom are not known outside of Egyptological circles. I hope this will turn out to be a semi regular series, which I will add to as I research and discover more.
The Privileged One.
Overseers and construction chiefs charged with nurturing the growth of Pharaoh Merenra’s pyramid at Saqqara were assembled and waiting with their labourers at the dockside as the flotilla of boats, rafts and lighters came into view. It was an important delivery. The sarcophagus, it’s carved lid, its attendant substructure and numerous other granite objects vital to the creation of Pharaoh’s last resting place, including the basements of the upper chamber were about to be unloaded.
Tendered by the lighters, and escorted by the boats the rafts were tied up and the hard work began. The reason for so many bosses to be present for the unloading was the man disembarking onto the dock from the principle boat.
Weni, Prince Governor of Upper Egypt was a man who knew how to get things done. He was the first commoner to hold the governorship and he had overseen the entire operation of collecting and shipping the cargo in one great expedition from Ibhat and Elephantine, an unprecedented feat until then unseen during the reign of any King.
This most trusted administrator had earned his lofty title. He had served under 3 Pharaoh’s. Starting as a young storehouse custodian under Teti, he had risen to Overseer of the robing room under Pepi I, who noticed the young Weni as a Natural organiser, with a sharp mind and good judgement. More impressive appointments had followed to the rank of Nekhen Judge, and he was soon indispensable to Pharaoh, who now had him consulting on the matters of the self contained universe of the royal Harem and the six courts of justice. This stood him in good stead when he uncovered a plot in the intrigue ridden harem. Pharoah instantly closed the lid on the investigation and Weni was ordered to investigate the matter quietly. When the Great Royal Wife Amtsi was interviewed Weni was the sole judge in the room to hear the case.
Qualifications for rank in the Old Kingdom Pharaonic system was that a man be sufficiently educated in calligraphy and mathematics. Merit, connections and loyalty was often the passport to high office. In the case of Weni, a commoner by birth, Pharaoh appointed his newest “Sole Companion” to the post of a commander in a punitive expedition against what scholars either call Bedouin, but who were known by the Egyptians as the “Sand Dwellers”. Here he put his skills as an organiser to the test, the army was a conglomeration of Egyptians, conscripts and Nubian mercenaries headed by a confusing array of princes, nobles and scribes. Weni proved a capable commander, he organised the army so that the arguments and rivalries inherent to such a force were negated, and plundering was kept to a minimum. His fleet sailed up the Red Sea while his army fixed the enemy in place, resulting in a crushing vicotry. However glamorous the dust and gore of the battlefield victories, he was unable to ensure a stable peace. Pharaoh sent him five more times, defeating the enemy each time, which raised his name to such a degree that a song was composed about his ability to defeat foes in multitudes of ways and return armies in safety.
There was no better man in Egypt to organise the transport of royal funerary goods, and this would prove the pinnacle of his career. When he came ashore everyone would have felt his searching gaze as he observed their reports. Fortunately for them he was off like the wind to Hetnub to fetch an offering table, which he duly returned with in a purpose built acacia lighter in 17 days, before hitting the road once more to oversee the construction of canals in Upper Egypt.
Soon after his appointment as Judge and Sole Companion to Pepi I, Pharaoh had bestowed on his faithful Weni a white stone tomb from Tura. Upon his death he was interred with honours and goods as befitted such a brilliant administrator. His epitaph reads true “I then, I was beloved of his [Pharaoh] father the object of the great praise of his mother, the charm of his brothers. [I] the Prince, active director of upper Egypt, the privileged one (imakhu) of Osiris, Weni”
See you again for another Adventure in Historyland, Josh.
Sources: The Splendour that was Egypt: Margaret Murray. Funerary inscriptions respective to subject found at reshafim.org . The Nile and Egyptian civilisation: A. Moret. Ancient Records of Egypt: James Breasted. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson. Soldier of the Pharaoh: Nic Fields.
Part 1 : Land of the Nuraghe.
From about 2,000 BC onwards buildings called Nuraghe’s dotted the Sardinian landscape. Their robust archaic forms arose from hilltops and bluffs, dominating fertile plains and guarding river crossings, trade routes, ports and sacred sites across the island. Wherever there was importance connected to the land these structures castled the ancient countryside. They stood as single towers or as groups connected by ramparts, standing like mounds of perfectly manicured rubble from which protruded anything from 3 to 5 towers up to 3 stories high surrounding a larger central one. Around the Nuraghe grew hut villages with thatched conical roofs, expanding outwards in bewildering wheels of concentric roundhouses, cramped together, connected by winding lanes that snaked between the labyrinth of homes. These were sometimes protected by a town wall, but even then they tended to spill past boundaries.
The appearance of a Nuraghe, seemingly rising out of the rugged landscape, gives the impression of deep antiquity, of an organic, rough hewn civilisation, and of the land being slowly tamed. Sardinia was the beginning of the Mediterranean Wild West, & this is it’s story. Continue reading “Ancient Sardinia: The Mediterranean Wild West.”
Into the unknown.
Nero’s Nile expedition of 62 AD was a small affair, part geographic philanthropy part Reconnaissance for conquest. Lead by two Praetorian Centurions it had travelled down the Nile through Egypt into modern Sudan, which was as war torn then as it is now, and reached the prosperous capitol of the Kingdom of Kush, Meroe. It was a time of stabilising relations between Rome and Meroe. After sporadic conflicts, it is known that trade was already beginning to flourish again between the province of Egypt and Kush. The Romans were well treated by Kandake Amanikhatashan, who had only recently ascended the throne and wished friendly relations with her powerful Roman neighbour in Egypt. This was fortuitous for Nero had sent the mission not just to find the source of the Nile but to suss out Kush for conquest. The centurions gathered supplies and information and were once more on their way into the unknown. Continue reading “Farthest South part 3.”
Barbarian is an ugly term. At its most polite it could be said to mean foreigner or “different”, but what it really means is uncivilised, or savage. The Greeks and Romans had precise ideas about what made someone civilised, and indeed human. Not even the Persians, who by most standards were a very advanced race, were called Barbarians. If these people couldn’t escape the stigma, then what hope did the clannish celts of the North stand? Continue reading “The Celtic Orations”
The Journey to Meroe.
In AD 62 Nero sent two Praetorian Centurions to Egypt to explore the Nile, and scout out the land for possible conquest. They arrived in Egypt and gathered a small, well equipped expedition, kitted out with military equipment from local Legion bases and hired civilian boats to carry them, and guides to lead the way. Thus prepared they set off on the journey to Meroe.