Egyptian Myth and Legend, by Donald Mackenzie, , at sacred-texts.com
Early Peoples--The Mediterranean Race--Blonde Peoples of Morocco and Southern Palestine--Fair Types in Egypt--Migrations of Mediterraneans --They reach Britain--Early Nilotic Civilizations--Burial Customs--Osiris Invasion--The Set Conquest--Sun Worshippers from Babylonia--Settlement in North--Coming of Dynastic Egyptians--The Two Kingdoms--United by Mena--The Mathematicians of the Delta--Introduction of Calendar--Progressive Pharaohs--Early Irrigation Schemes.
IN the remote ages, ere the ice cap had melted in northern Europe, the Nile valley was a swamp, with growth of jungle like the Delta. Rain fell in season, so that streams flowed from the hills, and slopes which are now barren wastes were green and pleasant grassland. Tribes of Early Stone Age savages hunted and herded there, and the flints they chipped and splintered so rudely are still found in mountain caves, on the surface of the desert, and embedded in mud washed down from the hills.
Other peoples of higher development appeared in time 1 and after many centuries elapsed they divided the valley between them, increasing in numbers and breaking off in tribes. Several small independent kingdoms were thus formed. When government was ultimately centralized after conquest, these kingdoms became provinces,
called nomes, 1 and each had its capital, with its ruling god and local theological system. The fusion of peoples which resulted caused a fusion of religious beliefs, and one god acquired the attributes of another without complete loss of identity.
The early settlers came from North Africa, which was possessed by tribes of the Mediterranean race. They were light-skinned "long heads" of short stature, with slender bodies, aquiline noses, and black hair and eyes. In the eastern Delta they were the Archaic Egyptians; in the western Delta and along the coast, which suffered from great subsidences in later times, they were known as the Libyans. Tribes of the latter appear to have mingled with a blonde and taller stock. 2 On the northern slopes of the Atlas Mountains this type has still survival; a similar people occupied southern Palestine in pre-Semitic times. Blue-eyed and light-haired individuals thus made appearance in the Nile valley at an early period. They were depicted in tomb paintings, and, although never numerous, were occasionally influential. There are fair types among modern-day Berbers. The idea that these are descendants of Celts or Goths no longer obtains.
As they multiplied and prospered, the Mediterranean peoples spread far from their North African area of characterization. Their migration southward was arrested in Nubia, where the exploring tribes met in conflict hordes of dusky Bushmen, with whom they ultimately blended. Fusion with taller negroes followed in later times. Thus had origin the virile Nubian people, who were ever a menace to the Dynastic Pharaohs.
But the drift of surplus Mediterranean stock appears to have been greater towards the north than the south. Branching eastward, they poured into Palestine and Asia Minor. They were the primitive Phnicians who ultimately fused with Semites, and they were the Hittites who blended with Mongols and Alpine (or Armenoid) "broad heads". Possessing themselves of large tracts of Italy and Greece, they became known to history as the Italici, Ligurians, Pelasgians, &c., and they founded a great civilization in Crete, where evidences have been forthcoming of their settlement as early as 10,000 B.C.
The western migration towards Morocco probably resulted in periodic fusions with blonde mountain tribes, so that the stock which entered Spain across the Straits of Gibraltar may have been more akin in physical type to the Libyans than to the Archaic Egyptians. The early settlers spread through western Europe, and are known to history as the Iberians. They also met and mingled with the tribes branching along the seacoast from Greece. Moving northward through the river valleys of France, the Iberians crossed over to Britain, absorbing everywhere, it would appear, the earlier inhabitants who survived the clash of conflict. These were the men of the Late Stone Age, which continued through vast intervals of time.
A glimpse of the early Mediterranean civilization is obtained in the Delta region. The dwellings of the Archaic Egyptians were of mud-plastered wickerwork, and were grouped in villages, round which they constructed strong stockades to ward off the attacks of desert lions and leopards, and afford protection for their herds of antelopes, goats, and ostriches. The cat and the dog were already domesticated. Men tattooed their bodies and painted their faces; they wore slight garments of
goatskin, and adorned their heads with ostrich feathers. The women) who affected similar habits, but had fuller attire, set decorated combs in their hair., and they wore armlets and necklets of shells, painted pebbles, and animals' teeth which were probably charms against witchcraft.
These early settlers were herdsmen and hunters and fishermen, and among them were artisans of great skill, who chipped from splintered flint sharp lances and knives and keen arrowheads, while they also fashioned artistic pottery and hollowed out shapely stone jars. In their small boats they sailed and rowed upon the Nile; they caught fish with bone hooks, and snared birds in the Delta swamps. Their traders bartered goods constantly among the tribes who dwelt on the river banks. They were withal fierce and brave warriors, as fearless in the chase as in battle, for they not only slew the wild ox, but made attack with lance and bow upon the crocodile and hippopotamus, and hunted the wild boar and desert lion in moonlight.
As day followed night, so they believed that life came after death. They buried their dead in shallow graves, clad in goatskin, crouched up as if taking rest before setting forth on a journey, while beside them were placed their little palettes of slate for grinding face paint, their staffs and flint weapons and vessels of pottery filled with food for sustenance and drink for refreshment.
Long centuries went past, and a new civilization appeared in Lower Egypt. Tribes from the east settled there and effected conquests, introducing new arts and manners of life and new beliefs. The people began to till the soil after the Nile flood subsided, and they raised harvests of barley and wheat. It was the age of Osiris and Isis.
Each king was an Osiris, and his symbols of power were the shepherd's staff and the flail. The people worshipped their king as a god, and, after thirty years' reign, devoured him at their Sed festival 1 with cannibalistic ceremonial, so that his spirit might enter his successor and the land and the people have prosperity. The gnawed bones of monarchs have been found in tombs. 2
Laws, which were stern and inexorable as those of Nature, disciplined the people and promoted their welfare. Social life was organized under a strict system of government. Industries were fostered and commerce flourished. Traders went farther afield as the needs of the age increased, and procured ivory from Nubia, silver from Asia, and from Araby its sweet perfumes and precious stones, and for these they bartered corn and linen and oil; there was also constant exchange of pottery and weapons and ornaments. Centuries went past, and this civilization at length suffered gradual decline, owing, probably, to the weakening of the central power.
Then followed a period of anarchy, when the kingdom, attracting plunderers, sustained the shock of invasion. Hordes of Semites, mingled probably with northern mountaineers, poured in from Syria and the Arabian steppes, and overthrew the power of the Osirian ruler. They were worshippers of Set (Sutekh), and they plundered and oppressed the people. Their sway, however, was but slight in the region of the western Delta, where frequent risings occurred and rebellion was ever fostered. Warfare disorganized commerce and impoverished the land. Art declined and an obscure period ensued.
But the needs of a country prevail in the end, and
the north flourished once again with growing commerce and revived industries. On their pottery the skilled artisans painted scenes of daily life. Men and women were, it appears, clad in garments of white linen, and the rich had belts and pouches of decorated leather and ornaments of silver and gold set with precious stones. Tools and weapons of copper had come into use, but flint was also worked with consummate skill unsurpassed by an), other people.
The land was a veritable hive of industry. Food was plentiful, for the harvests yielded corn, and huntsmen found wild animals more numerous as beasts of prey were driven from their lairs and lessened in number. Great galleys were built to trade in the Mediterranean, and each was propelled by sixty oarsmen. The ships of other peoples also visited the ports of Egypt, probably from Crete and the Syrian coast, and caravans crossed the frontier going eastward and north, while alien traders entered the land and abode in it. Battle conflicts with men of various races were also depicted on the pottery, for there was much warfare from time to time.
Growing communities with Babylonian beliefs effected settlements in the north. These were the sun worshippers whose religion ultimately gained ascendancy all over Egypt. From primitive Pithom (house of Tum) they may have passed to On (Heliopolis), which became sacred to Ra-Tum and was the capital of a province and probably, for a period, of the kingdom of Lower Egypt.
A. masterful people also appeared in Upper Egypt. They came from or through Arabia, and had absorbed a culture from a remote civilization, which cannot be located, in common with the early Babylonians. Crossing the lower end of the Red Sea, they entered the verdurous valley of the Nile over a direct desert route, or through
the highlands of Abyssinia. They were armed with weapons of copper, and effected their earliest settlement, it would appear, at Edfu. Then by gradual conquest they welded together the various tribes, extending their sway over an ever-increasing area. New and improved methods of agriculture were introduced. Canals were constructed for purposes of irrigation. The people increased in number and prosperity, and law and order was firmly established in the land.
These invaders were sun worshippers of the Horus-hawk cult, but they also embraced the religious beliefs of the people with whom they mingled, including the worship of the corn god Osiris. From Edfu and Hierakonpolis they pressed northward to sacred Abydos, the burial place of kings, and to Thinis, the capital of four united provinces. Several monarchs, who wore with dignity the white crown of Upper Egypt, reigned and "abode their destined hour". Then arose a great conqueror who was named Zaru, "The Scorpion". He led his victorious army down the Nile valley, extending his kingdom as he went, until he reached the frontier of the Fayum province, which was then a great swamp. There his progress was arrested. But a new era had dawned in Egypt, for there then remained but two kingdoms--the Upper and the Lower.
King Zaru was not slain at the Sed festival in accordance with the suggested ancient custom. He impersonated Osiris, throned in solitary dignity and wearing his crown, within a small curtained enclosure which opened at the front, and he held the crook in one hand and the flail in the other. The people made obeisance before him. It is not possible to follow the details of the ceremony, but from pictorial records it appears that large numbers of captives and oxen and cattle were offered up in sacrifice,
so that slaughter might be averted by slaughter. The monarch was believed to have died a ceremonial death and to have come to life again with renewed energy which prolonged his years. An Abydos inscription declares of an Osiris ruler in this connection: "Thou dost begin thy days anew; like the holy moon child thou art permitted to prosper . . . thou hast grown young and thou art born to life again." 1 An important event at the festival was the appearance before the Pharaoh of his chosen successor, who performed a religious dance; and he was afterwards given for wife a princess of the royal line, so that his right to the throne might be secured.
The closing years of Zaru's reign were apparently occupied in organizing and improving the conquered territory. As befitted an Osirian king, he de-voted much attention to agriculture, and land was reclaimed by irrigation. An artist depicted him in the act of digging on the river bank with a hoe, as if performing the ceremony of "cutting the first sod" of a new canal. The people are shown to have had circular dwellings, with fruit trees protected by enclosures. Their square fields were surrounded by irrigating ditches.
When the king died he was buried at Abydos, like other rulers of his line, in one of the brick tombs of the time. The investigation of these by Flinders Petrie has made possible the reconstruction in outline of the history of Egypt immediately prior to the founding of the First Dynasty. It is significant to note that the dead were buried at full length instead of in contracted posture as in Lower Egypt.
The next great monarch was Narmer, who is believed by certain authorities to have been Mena. Petrie, however, holds that they were separate personalities. Another view is that the deeds of two or three monarchs were attributed to Mena, as in the case of the Sesostris of the Greeks. Evidently many myths attached to the memory of the heroic figure who accomplished the conquest of the northern kingdom and founded the First Dynasty of united Egypt. Mena was represented, for instance) as the monarch who taught the people how to gorge luxuriously while he lay upon a couch and slaves massaged his stomach, and tradition asserted that he met his death, apparently while intoxicated, by falling into the Nile, in which he was devoured by a hippopotamus. But these folk tales hardly accord with the character of a conqueror of tireless energy, who must have been kept fully occupied in organizing his new territory and stamping out the smouldering fires of rebellion.
The initial triumph of the traditional Mena, in his Narmer character, was achieved in the swampy Fayum, the buffer state between Upper and Lower Egypt. It had long resisted invasion, but in the end the southern forces achieved a great victory. The broad Delta region then lay open before them, and their ultimate success was assured. King Narmer is shown on a slate palette clutching with one hand the headlocks of the Fayum chief-who kneels in helpless posture-while with the other he swings high a mace to smite the final blow. A composed body servant waits upon the conquering monarch, carrying the royal sandals and a water jar. The ha-wk symbol is also depicted to signify that victory was attributed to Horus, the tribal god. Two enemies take flight beneath, and above the combatants are two cow heads of the pastoral and sky goddess Hathor.
This great scene was imitated, in the true conservative spirit of the ancient Egyptians, on the occasion of similar acts of conquest in after time. Indeed, for a period of 3000 years each succeeding Pharaoh who achieved victory in battle was depicted, like Narmer, smiting his humbled foeman, and his importance was ever emphasized by his gigantic stature. It was an artistic convention in those ancient days to represent an Egyptian monarch among his enemies or subjects like a Gulliver surrounded by Lilliputians.
After the conquest of the Fayum, the Libyans appear to have been the dominating people in Lower Egypt. Their capital was at Sais, the seat of their goddess Neith. The attributes of this deity reflect the character of the civilization of her worshippers. Her symbol was a shield and two arrows. She was depicted with green hands and face, for she was an earth spirit who provided verdure for the flocks of a pastoral people. A weaver's shuttle was tattooed upon her body, to indicate apparently that she imparted to women their skill at the loom.
Mena conquered the Libyans in battle, and many thousands were slain, and he extended his kingdom to the shores of the Mediterranean. Then he assumed, in presence of his assembled army, the red crown of Lower Egypt. He appears also to have legitimatized the succession by taking for wife Neithhotep, "Neith rests", a princess of the royal house of Sais.
So was the Horus tribe united with the Libyans who worshipped a goddess. In aftertime the triad of Sais was composed of Osiris, Neith, and Horus. Neith was identified with Isis.
The race memory of the conquest of Lower Egypt is believed to be reflected in the mythical tale of Horus overcoming Set. The turning-point in the campaign
was the Fayum conflict where the animal gods of Set were slain. Petrie urges with much circumstantial detail the striking view that the expulsion of Set from Egypt signifies the defeat of the military aristocracy of "Semites " 1 by the Horus people, who, having espoused the religion of Osiris, also espoused the cause of the tribe which introduced his worship into the land. It is evident, from an inscription on a temple of southern Edfu, that many conquests were effected in the Delta region ere the union was accomplished. One version of the great folk tale states that when Horus overcame Set he handed him over to Isis bound in chains. She failed, however, to avenge her husband's death, and set her oppressor at liberty again. In his great wrath Horus then tore the crown from her head. This may refer particularly to the circumstances which led to the Libyan conquest. "We can hardly avoid", says Petrie, "reading the history of the animosities of the gods as being the struggles of their worshippers."
The Libyans were ever a troublesome people to the Pharaohs, whose hold on the western district of the Delta was never certain. Mena apparently endeavoured to break their power by taking captive no fewer than 120,000 prisoners. His spoils included also 100,000 oxen and 1,420,000 goats.
This displacement of so large a proportion of the inhabitants of the north was not without its effect in the physical character of the Nile-valley peoples. The differences of blend between north and south were well marked prior to the conquest. After the union of the two kingdoms the ruling classes of Upper Egypt approximated closely to the Delta type. It is evident that the great
native civilization which flourished in the Nile valley for over forty centuries owed much to the virility and genius of the Mediterranean race, which promoted culture wherever its people effected settlements. One is struck, indeed, to note in this connection that the facial characteristics of not a few Pharaohs resemble those of certain great leaders of men who have achieved distinction among the nations of Europe.
The culture of the Horite conquerors was evidently well adapted for the Nile valley. It developed there rapidly during the three centuries which elapsed before the Delta was invaded, and assumed a purely Egyptian character. Hieroglyphics were in use from the beginning, copper was worked by "the smiths", and superior wheel-turned pottery made its appearance. But the greatest service rendered to ancient Egypt by the Horites was the ultimate establishment of settled conditions over the entire land in the interests of individual welfare and national progress.
The contribution of the north to Dynastic culture was not inconsiderable. In fact, it cannot really be overestimated. The Delta civilization was already well developed prior to the conquest. There was in use among the people a linear script which resembled closely the systems of Crete and the Ægean and those also that appeared later in Karia and Spain. Its early beginnings may be traced, perhaps, in those rude signs which the pioneers of the Late Stone Age in western Europe scratched upon the French dolmens. Archaic Phnician letters show that the great sea traders in after time simplified the system and diffused it far and wide. 1 Our alphabet is thus remotely North African in origin.
It was in the Delta also that the Calendar was invented by great mathematicians of the Late Stone Age, over sixty centuries ago, who recognized that an artificial division of time was necessary for purposes of accurate record and calculation. They began their year with the rising of the star Sirius (Sothos) at the height of the Nile inundation. and it was divided into twelve months of thirty days each, five extra days being added for religious festivals associated with agricultural rites. This Calendar was ultimately imported and adjusted by the Romans, and it continues in use, with subsequent refinements, all over the world until the present day. Under Mena's rule there are evidences of the progress which is ever fostered when ideas are freely exchanged and a stimulating rivalry is promoted among the people. The inventive mind was busily at work. Pottery improved in texture and construction, and was glazed in colours. Jewellery of great beauty was also produced, and weapons and tools were fashioned with artistic design. Draughtboards and sets of "ninepins" were evidently in demand among all classes for recreation in moments of leisure.
Meanwhile the administration of the united kingdom was thoroughly organized. Officials were numerous and their duties were strictly defined. Various strategic centres were garrisoned so as to prevent outbreaks and to secure protection for every industrious and law-abiding citizen. Memphis became an important city. According to tradition it was built by Mena, but the local theological system suggests that it existed prior to his day. It is probable that he erected buildings there, including a fortification, and made it a centre of administration for the northern part of his kingdom.
When Mena died he was buried at Abydos, and he was succeeded by his son Aha, "the fighter". Under
the new monarch a vigorous military campaign was conducted in the south, and another province was placed under the sway of the central government. The peaceful condition of the north is emphasized by his recorded visit to Sais, where he made offerings at the shrine of Neith, the goddess of his mother's people.
Meanwhile the natural resources of the Nile valley were systematically developed. Irrigation works were undertaken everywhere, jungle was cleared away, and large tracts of land were reclaimed by industrious toilers. These activities were promoted and controlled by royal officials. King Den, a wise and progressive monarch, inaugurated the great scheme of clearing and draining the Fayum, which was to become in after time a fertile and populous province. The surveyors set to work and planned the construction of a canal, and the scheme was developed and continued by the monarchs who followed. It was as shrewdly recognized in the time of the First Dynasty as it is in our own day, that the progress and welfare of the Nile-valley people must ever depend upon the development of the agricultural resources of the country. The wealth of Egypt is drawn from the soil. All the glory and achievements of the Dynasties were made possible by the systems of government which afforded facilities and protection for the men who "cast their bread upon the waters" so that abundant return might be secured "after many days". When we are afforded, therefore, a glimpse of daily life on the land, as is given in the ancient and treasured folk tale which follows, 1 we are brought into closer touch with the people who toiled in contentment many thousands of years ago in the land of Egypt than is possible when we contemplate
with wonder their exquisite works of art or great architectural triumphs. The spirit which pervaded the ancient peasantry of the Nile valley is reflected in the faithful and gentle service and the winning qualities of poor Bata, the younger brother. It gives us pause to reflect that the story of his injured honour and tragic fate moved to tears those high-born dames whose swaddled mummies now lie in our museums to be stared at by holidaymakers who wonder how they lived and what scenes surrounded their daily lives.
30:1 The early Palæolithic men were probably of Bushman type and the later of Mediterranean. Evidences of development from the Palæolithic to the Neolithic Age have been forthcoming
31:1 The Greek name; the old Egyptian name was "hesp".
31:2 There were Libyans in the western Delta; on its borders were the "Tehenu", and beyond these the "Lebu", and still farther west were the "Meshwesh", the Maxyes of the Greeks. All were referred to as Libyans.
34:1 Petrie's view. See Researches in Sinai, p. 185.
34:2 Maspero. This opinion, however, has been sharply challenged.
37:1 The Horus worshippers had evidently absorbed the beliefs of the Nilotic moon cult. Some authorities credit the Dynastic Egyptians with the introduction of Osiris worship. The close resemblance of Osiris to similar deities in Asia Minor and Europe favours the view that Osiris first entered Lower Egypt. See Golden Bough--Adonis, Attis, Osiris volume. The Osiran heaven was of Delta character.
40:1 It is possible that Set (Sutekh) was the god of a pre-Semitic people whose beliefs were embraced by certain Semitic tribes.
41:1 Professor Macalister is inclined to credit the Philistines instead of the Phoenicians with the work of systematizing the script.
43:1 It assumed its final form in the Empire period, and is evidently of remote antiquity.