The City of the Caliphs - Eustace Alfred Reynolds Ball - ebook

The City of the Caliphs ebook

Eustace Alfred Reynolds Ball



Cairo has for centuries been the home of Oriental magnificence and despotism, and still, though fallen from its high estate, it ranks as one of the most typical and picturesque-as well as the wickedest - of Mohammedan cities, while its mingling of Oriental luxury and laissez faire with Occidental bustle and commercial activity, give it a curiously cosmopolitan character. Its manifold aspects of commerce, history, art, and social life are described from intimate acquaintance by Mr. Reynolds-Ball, who tells not only of the city itself, but of its environs and approaches, and who describes the wonderful vista of the Nile from Cairo to the second cataract.

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The City of the Caliphs


A popular study of Cairo






The city of the caliphs, E. A. Reynolds Ball

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849649692

[email protected]


Availability: Publicly available via the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA) through the following Creative Commons attribution license: "You are free: to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work; to make derivative works; to make commercial use of the work. Under the following conditions: By Attribution. You must give the original author credit. For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder. Your fair use and other rights are in no way affected by the above." (Status: unknown)


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IF a plebiscite were taken among travellers in general as to the dozen most interesting and striking cities of the globe, it is probable that Cairo would be included in the list. It is inferior in world-wide interest, of course, to Jerusalem or Rome, or even Athens, but it would probably take a higher rank than many historic capitals. No doubt Cairo, compared with the great capitals of Europe, is modern, or, at any rate, mediæval, and, indeed, historically of little importance; but it cannot be denied that to the average traveller Cairo is not easily dissociated from Egypt, — the cradle of the oldest civilisation and culture in the world. The proximity of the Pyramids and the Sphinx have no doubt something to do with this vague and erroneous view, and with the fictitious antiquity ignorantly attributed to the City of the Caliphs. The most elementary history, handbook or guide-book will, of course, correct this general impression; but it is not, perhaps, an exaggeration, to say that some casual visitors to Egypt begin their sightseeing with a vague, if unformulated, impression that Cairo was once the capital of the Pharaohs, and the Pyramids its cemetery.

The historic and artistic interest of Cairo is, in short, purely mediæval and Saracenic; and, perhaps, no Eastern city, except Damascus, in the beaten track of tourist travel,embodies so many of the typical characteristics of an Oriental city.

Mehemet Ali and Ismail may be considered by the artist and antiquarian to have done their best to vulgarise, that is, Europeanise, the City of the Mamelukes; but the rebuilding and enlarging under Mehemet, and the hausmannising tendencies of Ismail, have done little more than touch the surface. The native quarter of Cairo still remains a magnificent field of study for the intelligent visitor, especially if he ignores the hackneyed and limited programme of the guides and interpreters; and the artist who knows his Cairo will find the Moslem city full of the richest material for his sketch-book. “Every step,” observes Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole, “tells a story of the famous past. The stout remnant of a fortified wall, a dilapidated mosque, a carved door, a Kufic text,—each has its history, which carries us back to the days when Saladin went forth from the gates of Cairo to meet Richard in the plain of Acre, or when Beybars rode at the head of his Mamelukes in the charge which trampled upon the Crusaders of Saint Louis. A cloistered court recalls the ungodly memory of the prophet of the Druses; a spacious quadrangle, closely filled by picturesque, albeit scowling, groups of students, reminds us of the conquering Caliphs of ‘Aly's heretical line, who, disdaining the mere dominion of Roman ‘Africa,’ carried their triumphant arms into Egypt and Syria, Sicily and Sardinia, whilst their fleets disputed the command of the Mediterranean with the galleys of Moorish Spain.”

Cairo is full of these picturesque associations connected with the magnificent age of the Mameluke Sultans, but most visitors know little about them. Probably this is mainly attributable to the fact that most of the books on Egypt rather ignore its capital; and the age of the Saracens is a period as much overlooked by modern historians as that of the Ptolemies.

There are, of course, the standard guide-books, — a most skilful condensation of a mass of erudition, — but the compilers find the Upper Nile, with its antiquities, of such surpassing interest, that little room can be found for Cairo itself. Besides, guide-books are read of necessity, and not for pleasure or continuously; and in the wealth of dry detail it is difficult sometimes to “see the wood for the trees.”

There is, however, another aspect besides the sentimental or devotional one, which should not be disregarded; and in the chapter dealing with the regeneration of Egypt under British influence, I have attempted to show how modern Egypt strikes the political observer and the man of practical affairs.

Egypt, with its wealth of antiquities and artistic relics, is, no doubt, of the highest importance to the tourist and sight-seer. Regarded, however, as a community or modern state, the Egypt of to-day holds a very low rank among semicivilised countries. There is a certain amount of reason in the complaint of some modern historians that Western minds seem to lose all sense of proportion and historic perspective when describing this Land of Paradox, which is, after all, but a tenth-rate territory, with an acreage less than that of Belgium, and a population hardly more numerous than that of Ireland. These indisputable facts will, perhaps, come as a surprise to the tourist, who takes several weeks to sail along the thousand miles of its mighty river,'—its one and only highway, — from Cairo to the Soudan frontier. One is apt to forget that, above the Delta, Egypt simply means a narrow fringe of desert stretching for a few miles on each side of the Nile. This, no doubt, is true; and visitors are perhaps too apt to “see the country looming in a mist of mirage,” and are unable to resist the weird charm of this unique land.

At the same time, one cannot deny the enormous international importance of Egypt in spite of its small acreage and population. This importance, no doubt, is to some extent fictitious, and is due partly to its peculiar geographical position, which makes it the great highway between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, and partly to its climate, which has converted it into the great winter residence and playground of civilised nations. Besides, magnitude is not, of course, an absolutely reliable test of a country's greatness. Little states, as we all know, have filled a most important part in the world's history,—Athens Sparta, Venice, Florence, Genoa, for instance. Then, the Holy Land itself is about the size of Wales, and the area of Attica was no wider than that of Cornwall.

In preparing this book, I have consulted many of the standard English and French works which have been recently published; and I am especially indebted to the valuable information to be found in the works of Professor Flinders Petrie, Professor Mahaffy, the late Miss A. B. Edwards, Sir Alfred Milner, and Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole. For the preliminary chapter on Alexandria and the Nile Delta, I have utilised portions of an article on Alexandria which I contributed to “The Picturesque Mediterranean,” published by Cassell & Co., Ltd., London, and my grateful acknowledgments are due to this firm for permission to reproduce these portions.

E. A. R. B.



THE history of the City of Cairo, as distinct from that of Egypt, is simple and easily mastered, being confined within reasonable limits. It does not go back further than mediæval times. Unlike the history of Egypt, which is concerned mainly with the rise and fall of alien states, Cairo, whether Arabic or Turkish, is a wholly Mohammedan creation. It is, indeed, more Mohammedan in some respects than any city in the world, just as Rome is more Roman than any other city. Constantinople, of course, is a decidedly hybrid city in comparison, and its very name recalls an alien civilisation; while its chief temple, Justinian's great church of St. Sophia, is a Christian building, dedicated to a Christian saint, although the Turks naturally try to disguise its heretical origin by calling it Agia Sophia (Holy Wisdom).

The history of Cairo, then, falls naturally into two periods: that of Arab rule when it was virtually the seat of the Caliphate; and the period of Turkish dominion, from its capture by the Ottoman Turks in 1517 down to the present time. In short, we need consider it under two aspects merely, — first as the capital of the Caliphs, and next as the chief city of a Turkish pachalic.

The history of Egypt, on the other hand, is that of the oldest civilised country in the world, — though as a community it is perhaps one of the newest. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that all literature, ancient and modern, from the works of Homer and Aristotle down to the masterpieces of Dante and Shakespeare, is indirectly due to the ancient Egyptian civilisation. Philologists of the highest authority are agreed that the Phœnician origin of the alphabet cannot be substantiated. Even Tacitus seems to have suspected that this nation had won a spurious renown as the inventors of letters, — tanquam repererint quœ acceperant. The Egyptian cursive characters to be found in the Prissé papyrus of the eleventh dynasty —- “the oldest book in the world” — are pronounced by the best philological scholars to be the prototype of the letters afterwards copied by the Greeks from the Phœnicians, and thence transmitted to the Latins.

Though Egypt, as the cradle of the alphabet, may be considered the foster-mother of all literature, yet it must be allowed that the one thing needful to history, namely, literary material in documentary form, is wanting in the case of Egypt. We have nothing but the fossilised history of the monuments. Only the baldest annals (pace Brugsch Bey) can be compiled from stone inscriptions. Then, as Mr. David Hogarth, in his “Wanderings of a Scholar in the Levant,” pertinently observes, contemporary documents carved on stone, whether in Greece or in the Nile Valley, have often been accepted far too literally. The enthusiasm of archæologists has inclined them to regard insufficiently the fact that to lie monumentally to posterity is a failing to which the Pharaohs, prompted by their colossal vanity, were particularly subject.

From the Hyksos invasion down to the conquest of the country by the Ottomans, — a period of nearly five thousand years, — Egyptian history is simply that of foreign conquests, and is inseparably bound up with that of alien nations, its conquerors, — Semitic (Hyksos kings), Ethiopian, Assyrian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Saracen, and Turkish. A cardinal fact in the history of this remarkable country is its perpetual subjection to foreign influences. Yet, in spite of this, the Egyptians have, during these thousands of years of foreign dominion, preserved their national characteristics, and the same unvarying physical types. This racial continuity, in spite of all these adverse circumstances and interminable succession of alien immigrations, which might be supposed to modify materially the uniformity of the Egyptian type, is one of the greatest puzzles in ethnography. What is known as the prehistoric period of Egypt can be dismissed in a paragraph. This history is based, of course, on mythical legend, and is purely conjectural. It is supposed that the country was divided into a number of small, independent states, each with its own tutelary chief; or, according to some writers, these sovereigns were deities and kings in one, and they have been termed god-kings. To emphasise the distinction, Menes and the kings of the first dynasty are designated as the first earthly kings of Egypt.

As to the origin of the Egyptians, scholars are divided into two schools; for though there are innumerable theories, if we eliminate the more fanciful ones it will be found that all historians of note have adopted one or other of the two following theories. Those who adopt the Biblical narrative have come to the conclusion that the ancestors of the Egyptians came originally from Asia, and that, in short, the tide of civilisation flowed up the Nile. Philologists, too, who have discovered many points of resemblance in the roots of the ancient Egyptian and Semitic languages, have adopted this theory. Ethnographists and anthropologists, however, hold an opposite view, and consider that a study of the customs of the ancient Egyptians, and an examination of their implements and utensils, which are very similar to those of the tribes living on the banks of the Niger and Zambesi, rather point to an Ethiopian or South African origin; and that civilisation began in the Upper Nile Valley and spread northwards and downwards. It is probable, however, that each of these historical schools may be partly right; and possibly the true explanation is that, whether an Asiatic or African origin be granted, the immigrants found an aboriginal race settled on the banks of the Nile, whose racial characteristics and distinctive physical types were probably as little modified by these alien invaders as they have been by their Mohammedan conquerors in the seventeenth century.

Most modern historians, then, fortified by the opinion of ethnographical authorities, after the scientific examination of the ancient monumental sculptures and drawings, are satisfied that the ancient Egyptians differed in all essential racial characteristics from the African negroes, and belonged to a branch of the great Caucasian family.

It would be futile to attempt here anything but the barest summary of the chief facts of Egyptian history. A very slight thread of narrative may, however, connect the most important historical landmarks under which the leading facts of Egyptian history may be grouped. Without attempting, then, anything of the nature of a scientific chronological précis, a practical and rough-and-ready division, ignoring, of course, the dynasties and Ancient, Middle, and New Empires, and other conventional divisions of historians, would be something as follows: —

1. The age of the Pharaohs, which would include the first twenty-six dynasties, down to the first Persian invasion under Cambyses.

2. The Empire of the Ptolemies, which includes the prosperous reigns of the dynasty founded by Alexander the Great.

3. The Saracenic era, during which Egypt became once more a centre of arts and sciences, in spite of the internecine feuds of the rival Caliphs. This period closes with the conquest by the Ottoman Turks.

4. The Political Renaissance of Egypt under Mehemet Ali.

5. Modern Egypt, when the country of the Pharaohs entered upon its latest phase, after the fall of the Khedive Ismail, as a kind of protegé of the Great Powers, under the stewardship, first of Great Britain and France, and finally of Great Britain alone.

The division of Egyptian history into Ancient, Middle, and New Empires is as artificial and arbitrary as the popular divisions into dynasties. The Ancient Empire begins with Menes, the first really historical king of Egypt. Little is known of this monarch's achievements, but he at any rate affords us a sure starting-place for our survey of the early monarchy.

The sources from which we derive our knowledge of these primeval kings are from the monumental inscriptions, lists (more or less imperfect or undecipherable) in the Turin papyrus, and the history of the Ptolemaic priest, Manetho. Mena, or Menes, is supposed to have been descended from a line of local chiefs at This, near Abydos, the traditional burying-place of Osiris. Coming south, he made Memphis the capital of his new united kingdom. This was the chief centre of the worship of the god Ptah, creator of gods and men; and it was here that the cult of the Apis bull (the Serapis of the Greeks) was first instituted. The kings of the first three dynasties, with the exception of Menes, have left few records, though certain inscriptions on the cliffs at Sinai have been attributed to one of the kings of the third dynasty, and the Pyramid of Medum, in the opinion of Doctor Petrie, was built by Seneferu. These three dynasties cover the period B. C. 4400 to 3766, according to Brugsch. But Egyptian chronology is one of the most disputed departments of Egyptology, and the dates given are, of course, only approximate.

With the fourth dynasty we come to the familiar names of the great pyramid-builders, Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinos. It is not till the age of the Theban Pharaohs that we find sovereigns who have left such lasting records of a highly developed civilisation. Cheops and Chephren, in the Egyptian traditions, probably coloured a good deal by the biassed accounts of Herodotus and other Greek historians, have been held up to the execration of posterity as heartless tyrants and profligate despisers of the gods. Mycerinos's memory is, however, revered by Herodotus as a just and merciful king. “To him his father's deeds were displeasing, and he both opened the temples and gave liberty to the people, who were ground down to the last extremity of evil, to return to their own business and sacrifices; also he gave decision of their causes juster than those of all the other kings.” The actual bones of this king can be seen in the British Museum, so that this panegyric has a peculiar interest for English people.

To the fifth dynasty, known as the Elephantine from the place of origin, belongs Unas, whose pyramid-tomb was discovered by Professor Maspero in 1881. The sovereigns of the sixth dynasty distinguished themselves by various foreign conquests. To this family belongs the famous Queen Nitokris, the original of the fabled Rhodopis of the Greeks.

It is permissible to skip a period of some six hundred years, during which four dynasties reigned, whose history is almost entirely lost. So far as we can judge, it was a period of struggle between weak titular sovereigns and powerful feudal chiefs who left the kings a merely nominal sovereignty, having apparently acquired the control of the civil and military authority.

Egypt during this period was invaded by Libyan and Ethiopian tribes. With the eleventh dynasty, founded by powerful princes from Thebes, begins the Middle Empire, with Thebes as its capital. It will be noticed that the seat of government is often shifted during the thirty dynasties which comprise Egyptian history from Menes to Nectanebo I.

Under the Ancient Empire, Memphis, as we have seen, was the seat of government, and may be regarded as the first historic capital of Egypt. This, near Abydos, no doubt can boast of an earlier history; but this was merely the cradle of the first Egyptian kings, of whom we have no records more authentic than those semi-mythical traditions which centre round the prehistoric god-kings, and it cannot, of course, be considered as a seat of government. The political centre was shifted, under different kings, for dynastic, strategic, or political motives, to various places in Egypt, from the Upper Nile Valley to the Delta.

As the power of the kings increased, the capital was fixed at Abydos, Elephantine, and other southern cities. Under the Middle Empire, the period of Egypt's greatest splendour, the great city of Thebes was the capital. Then, during a period of internal disturbance or foreign invasions, it was transferred again to the north, to Memphis, Tel-El-Amarna, and other cities of Lower Egypt. From the thirteenth to the seventeenth dynasties, Egyptian history is intricate and difficult to follow. The Shepherd Kings had conquered Lower Egypt, and held sway in the Delta, while the old Theban royal race still maintained the chief authority in Upper Egypt. So, during these five dynasties, there were two capitals, Tanis (Zoan) and Thebes. During the later Asiatic wars the political centre was shifted towards the Asiatic frontier, and Rameses the Great and his successors held their court principally in the northern city of Tanis. Under the New Empire,— the period of decadence and foreign oppression, — the centre was continually transferred, and it was shifted with each political change, — now to Thebes, now to Memphis, and finally to Bubastis and Sais.

The twelfth dynasty is an important period in Egyptian history. The reigns of Usertsen I. and III. and Amen-Em-Het III. are renowned for the famous permanent engineering achievements which did more, perhaps, for the prosperity of the country than many of the architectural enterprises and foreign conquests of the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. Amen-Em-Het III. conferred the greatest benefit on Egypt by his vast engineering works for regulating the inundations of the Nile. His most famous work, by which Egypt has benefited even down to the present day, was the construction of the great artificial lake, called by the Greeks Moeris, now called by the Arabs El-Fayyum. This monarch also gave later sovereigns the idea of a Nilometer, as on the cliffs at Semni he made regular measurements of the rise in the Nile inundation.

We now enter a dark period of about five hundred years, when Egypt passed under the foreign domination — incidentally referred to above, from which she freed herself only after a long and severe struggle.

The thirteenth dynasty appears at first to have carried on the government with the success inherited from its predecessors; but there are indications that the reigns of its later kings were disturbed by internal troubles, and it is probable that actual revolution transferred power to the fourteenth dynasty, whose seat was Sais in the Delta. The new dynasty probably never succeeded in making its sway paramount; and Lower Egypt, in particular, seems to have been torn by civil wars, and to have fallen an easy prey to the invader. Forced on by a wave of migration of the peoples of Western Asia, in connection, perhaps, with the conquests of the Elamites, or set in motion by some internal cause, the nomad tribes of Syria made a sudden irruption into the northeastern border of Egypt, and, conquering the country as they advanced, apparently without difficulty, finally established themselves in power at Memphis. Their course of conquest was undoubtedly made smooth for them by the large foreign element in the population of the Lower country, where, on this account, they may have been welcomed as a kindred people, or at least not opposed as a foreign enemy. The dynasties which the newcomers founded we know as those of the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings, — a title, however, which is nowhere given to them in genuine Egyptian texts. It has been conjectured that the name Hyksos (which first occurs in the fragment of Manetho) is derived from “Hek-Shasu,” King of the Shasu, an Egyptian name for the thieving nomad race.

After the rough work of conquest had been accomplished, the Hyksos gradually conformed to Egyptian customs, adopted Egyptian forms of worship, and governed the country just as it had been governed by the native kings. The fifteenth and sixteenth dynasties are Hyksos dynasties, probably at first holding sway over Lower Egypt alone, but gradually bringing the Upper country into subjection, or at least under tribute. The period of the seventeenth dynasty, whether we are to call it Hyksos or native Theban, or to count it as being occupied by kings of both races, was a period of revolt. The Theban under-king, Sekenen Ra, refused tribute, and the war of liberation began, which, after a struggle of nearly a century, was brought to a happy conclusion by the final expulsion of the Hyksos by Aahmes, or Amasis I., the founder of the eighteenth dynasty.

The period of the foreign domination has a particular interest on account of its connection with Bible history. It appears from chronological calculations, which are fairly conclusive, that it was towards the end of the Hyksos rule that the Patriarch Joseph was sold into Egypt. A king named Nubti (B. c. 1750) is supposed to have occupied the throne at the time; and the famous Hyksos king, Apepa II., is said to have been the Pharaoh who raised Joseph to high rank, and welcomed the Patriarch Jacob and his family into Egypt.

Aahmes I. (Amasis), the conqueror of the Hyksos usurpers, was the son of Ka-mes, the last of the royal race of Thebes of the seventeenth dynasty; and his mother was Queen Aah-hetep, whose jewels in the National Museum at Cairo are only exceeded in beauty and interest by those of the Princess Hathor. This monarch is the first of the eighteenth dynasty, in which the history of Egypt enters upon a new phase, and what may be called the “Expansion of Egypt” begins. Hitherto the Egyptian sovereigns had been satisfied with waging war only with their immediate neighbours. Now begins an active foreign policy, and we note an expansion of the national spirit. An Egyptian Empire was founded, which, by the end of the reign of Thotmes I., extended from the Euphrates in the north to Berber in the Soudan. This policy of foreign conquest was, no doubt, forced upon Aahmes and his successors by circumstances. It was essential to find employment for their large armies, whose energies had been hitherto confined to overthrowing the Hyksos dynasty. But this foreign policy, which brought Egypt into collision with the great Asiatic empires, eventually proved a source of danger, when Egypt was no longer ruled by the warrior-kings of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth dynasties.

Thotmes II. and his sister, the famous Hatasu (Hatshepset), whose achievements are more fully referred to in the chapter on Thebes, followed up the Asiatic victories of Thotmes I. with successful expeditions into Arabia. It was, however, reserved for her son Thotmes III. to bring the neighbouring nations into complete subjection; and Egypt, under this famous monarch, perhaps the greatest prototype of Alexander the Great in history, reached the period of its greatest material prosperity.

It was his proud boast that he planted the frontiers of Egypt where he pleased; and this was, indeed, no hyperbolical figure. “Southwards, as far, apparently, as the great Equatorial Lakes, which have been rediscovered in our time; northwards to the Islands of the Ægean and the upper waters of the Euphrates; over Syria and Sinai, Mesopotamia and Arabia in the East; over Libya an the North African coast as far as Cherchell in Algeria on the West, he carried fire and sword, and the terrors of the Egyptian name.”

Queen Hatasu was one of the most famous royal builders of Egypt. “Numerous and stately as were the obelisks erected in Egypt from the period of the twelfth dynasty down to the time of Roman rule,” remarks Miss Edwards, “those set up by Hatasu in advance of the fourth pylon of the Great Temple of Karnak are the loftiest, the most admirably engraved, and the best proportioned. One has fallen; the other stands alone, one hundred and nine feet high in the shaft, cut from a single flawless block of red granite.”

Thotmes III. was famed as much for his achievements of peace as for his foreign conquests, and some of the finest monuments at Thebes and Luxor testify to his merits as an architect. In fact, his cartouche occurs more frequently even than that of Rameses II. on antiquities of every kind, from temples and tombs down to scarabs. The fame of Thotmes's successors, Amen-hetep II., and Amenhetep III., though vigorous and warlike kings, has been eclipsed by that of their great ancestor, though their campaigns in Syria and Nubia were equally successful.

The reign of Amen-hetep IV. is noteworthy for an important religious reform or revolution. This king, probably influenced by his mother, a princess of Semitic origin, “endeavoured to substitute a sort of Asiatic monotheism, under the form of the worship of the solar disk, for the official worship of Egypt. The cult and the very name of Amen were proscribed, the name being erased from the monuments wherever it occurred, and the king changed his own name from Amen-hetep to Khun-Aten, the ‘Glory of the Solar Disk.’ In the struggle which ensued between the Pharaohs and the powerful hierarchy of Thebes, Khun-Aten found himself obliged to leave the capital of his fathers, and build a new one farther north called Khut-Aten the site of which is now occupied by the villages of Tel-El-Amarna and Haggi Qandil. Here he surrounded himself with the adherents of the new creed, most of whom seem to have been Canaanites or other natives of Asia, and erected in it a temple to the solar disk as well as a palace for himself, adorned with paintings, gold, bronze, and inlaid work in precious stones.”

The worship of Amen was, however, too firmly established to be permanently overthrown, and the great god was paramount among the Egyptian gods. Consequently the new cult took no hold upon the people. After Amenhetep's death the new worship died out, and the god Amen was restored as the national deity by Amen-hetep IV. (Horus). In fact, the very stones and decorations of the Temple of the Solar Disk were used in embellishing the temple of the victorious Amen at Karnak.

With the nineteenth dynasty (B. C. 1400-1200), the age of the earlier Pharaohs, — for in popular estimation the generic names of Rameses and Pharaoh are convertible terms, though etymologists would, of course, draw a distinction, — we enter upon the most popular period of ancient Egyptian history,— popular, that is, in the sense of familiar. Rameses I. is the least important sovereign of the Pharaonic monarchs, and is known chiefly for the war he waged with the traditional enemies of the Theban monarchs, the Khita of Northern Syria. His victories were, however, but moderate, and the campaign was continued with greater success by his son, Seti I. This sovereign successfully undertook the task of subjugating the Phœnicians and the Libyans. He cut, too, the first canal between the Red Sea and the Nile. It is true that this honour has been claimed for Queen Hatasu, but the authority is doubtful, being mainly based on the sculptures in which this Queen's famous expedition to the Land of Punt is pictorially described, some of these paintings apparently indicating that there was some kind of waterway between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea.

Rameses I. was succeeded by the famous Rameses II., the Sesostris of the Greeks, and known to us as the Pharaoh of the Oppression. Rameses II. is, no doubt, the one dominant personality in the whole field of Egyptian history. His name is more widely known than that of any other Egyptian monarch. Many reasons for this universal posthumous fame can be assigned. No doubt his unusually long reign, seven years longer than the present reign of Queen Victoria (1897), has something to do with this. Then, too, the prominence given to this monarch's reign by Herodotus and other Greek historians, and the wealth of traditionary lore which has centred round the legendary Sesostris, and his intimate associations with the Old Testament history, have contributed not a little to exalt the fame of Rameses above that of all other monarchs.

It must not, however, be forgotten that his renown is to a considerable extent factitious. For instance, owing to his overweening vanity (in which, however, he did not differ from most other sovereigns of Egypt) in usurping the architectural monuments of his predecessors by carving upon them his own cartouche, he got credit for these magnificent works, as well as for those which were undeniably his own, of which the most famous are the Ramesseum, at Thebes, and the rock-hewn Temple of Abru-Simbel, in Nubia.

Then Rameses's greatest achievement in arms, the famous campaign against the Khita, which is commemorated at such inordinate length on the mural sculptures of so many temples, has been naturally somewhat magnified by Pentaur, the poet laureate of the Theban court. In a poem virtually written to order, it is necessary, of course, to discount a certain leaning towards fulsome hyperbole in this stone-graven epic. It is absurd to accept as an historical fact the extravagant statement which makes Rameses rout, single-handed, the whole Khita host.

Without wishing to deny the title of Great to this monarch, we need not follow the example of the Greek historians and accept without reserve achievements which would be more suited to the mythical god-kings of the prehistoric period.

In the reign of Rameses the Great's successor, Mer-en-Ptah II. (Seti III.), took place, according to most modern historians, the Exodus of the Israelites. Some chronologists have, however, given a later date to this national emigration. “With the expiration of the nineteenth dynasty,” writes Dr. Wallis-Budge, “the so-called Middle Empire of Egypt came to an end, and we stand upon the threshold of the New Empire, a chequered period of occasional triumphs, of internal troubles, and of defeats and subjection to a foreign yoke.”

The period from the twentieth to the end of the twenty-fifth dynasty can be rapidly summed up. Rameses III., the founder of the twentieth dynasty, was the only strong sovereign of the half-dozen who bore this dynastic name, and was the last of the warrior-kings of Egypt. After his death, the country enters upon a period of degeneration and decadence, which lasted for over five hundred years. The later kings of this dynasty fell gradually under the dominion of the priests, which was finally consummated by the usurpation of a race of priest-kings from Tanis, who formed the twenty-first dynasty. The Trojan war was probably waged about this time. The rule of the high-priest of Amen was eventually overthrown by the Libyan prince, Shashank (Shishak of the Old Testament), who founded the twenty-second dynasty and made Bubastes the seat of government.

Egypt was now entering upon the stage of disruption, and the authority of one sovereign was virtually replaced by that of a host of petty kings, and the two following dynasties (twenty-third and twenty-fourth) are made up of a list of the more powerful of these sovereigns, who had gained a nominal supremacy. During these troublous times of internecine strife, Egypt was being harassed by two powerful neighbours, Assyria and Ethiopia. The latter country, which, during the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties, had been a mere province of the empire of the Pharaohs, was now independent, and from about 715 B. C. they got the better of their former masters and founded what is known as the twenty-fifth dynasty. This dynasty was, however, short-lived, and in 672 B. C. the Assyrians under Esarhaddon invaded Egypt, captured Thebes and Memphis, and, occupying the whole Delta, became masters of the country.

The history of Egypt at this period is difficult to follow, but it appears that one of the more powerful of the native princes— Psammetichus, King of Sais, who was nominally a viceroy of Assyria in Egypt — took advantage of the disruption of the Assyrian Empire caused by the revolt of Babylonia, to rebel against his suzerain and expel the Assyrian army of occupation. Then, by a judicious marriage with a Theban princess, the heiress of the older dynasties, Psammetichus was able to win over Upper Egypt as well as the Delta, and to found what is known as the twenty-sixth dynasty. A transitory period of tranquillity now begins, and a sort of revival of the arts and sciences takes place, — one of the many periods of renaissance which Egypt has known, — which proved that many centuries of civil war and foreign oppression had not entirely crushed the artistic spirit which had been bequeathed to the Egyptians by their ancestors. Necho, the son of Psammetichus, next reigned. He seems to have paid as much attention to the domestic welfare and the material prosperity of his country as to foreign conquest, and among his achievements was an attempt to cut a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea. His efforts in encouraging the development of trade did a good deal towards reviving the commercial spirit of the people. It was in Necho's reign, too, that certain Phœnician mariners in this sovereign's service made a voyage round Africa, — an enterprise which took nearly three years to accomplish. This is the first complete circumnavigation of the African continent recorded in history.

For the next one hundred years Egyptian history is merged in that of Syria, Babylonia, and Persia. The historical sequence of events is rendered more difficult to follow by the fact that, after the victory of Cambyses in 527 B. C., till the subjugation of the Persians by Alexander the Great at the battle of the Issus in 332 B. C., — one of the most “decisive battles of the world,” — Egypt was practically a satrapy of the Persian Empire though historians reckon three short-lived Pharaonic dynasties during this period, called the twenty-eighth, twenty-ninth, and thirtieth, which synchronised with the twenty-seventh, or Persian dynasty. This is accounted for by the fact that whenever a native prince got possession of the Delta, or of a considerable portion of Egypt, he became nominally sovereign of Egypt, though it was to all intents and purposes a province of Persia.

The twenty-seventh dynasty was, in short, a period of Persian despotism, tempered by revolts more or less successful on the part of the native viceroys or satraps appointed by Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and other Persian monarchs. For instance, for a few years, under Amyrteus (twentieth-eighth dynasty), Mendes (twenty-ninth dynasty), and the last native sovereign, Nectanebo II. (thirtieth dynasty), Egypt was almost independent of Persia. In B. C. 332, when the Persian power had succumbed to the Macedonians under Alexander the Great, this anomalous period of Egyptian quasi-independence came to an end. On the death of this monarch, Egypt fell to the share of his general, Ptolemy, who founded the important dynasty of the Ptolemies, and was hailed as the Saviour (Soter) of the country.

This concludes a necessarily brief summary of the age of the Pharaohs. In order to confine in a few pages a sketch of the history of a period covering over four thousand years and comprising thirty different dynasties, one can do little more than give a bare list of names of the principal sovereigns and of their more important wars. In fact, like all ancient history, the history of the pre-Ptolemaic period is in a great degree a history of empires and dynasties, foreign wars and internal revolutions, and is in a much less degree the history of the political and social progress of the people. For, as Professor Freeman truly observes, it is to the history of the Western world in Europe and America that we must naturally look for the highest development of art, literature, and political freedom.




THE dynasty of the Ptolemies is thus appropriately designated, as it emphasises the fact that these Macedonian sovereigns were not merely kings of Egypt, but rulers of a great composite empire.

“None of Alexander's achievements was more facile, and yet none more striking, than his Egyptian campaign. His advent must have been awaited with all the agitations of fear and hope by the natives of all classes; for the Persian sway had been cruel and bloody, and if it did not lay extravagant burdens upon the poor, it certainly gave the higher classes an abundance of sentimental grievances, for it had violated the national feelings, and especially the national religion, with wanton brutality. The treatment of the revolted province by Ochus was not less violent and ruthless than had been the original conquest by Cambyses, which Herodotus tells us with graphic simplicity. No conquerors seem to have been more uncongenial to the Egyptians than the Persians. But all invaders of Egypt, even the Ptolemies, were confronted by a like hopelessness of gaining the sympathies of their subjects. If it was comparatively easy to make them slaves, they were perpetually revolting slaves. This was due, not to the impatience of the average native, but rather to the hold which the national religion had gained upon his life. This religion was administered by an ambitious, organised, haughty priesthood, whose records and traditions told them of the vast wealth and power they had once possessed, — a condition of things long passed away, and never likely to return, but still filling the imaginations of the priests, and urging them to set their people against every foreign ruler. The only chance of success for an invader lay in conciliating this vast and stubborn corporation. Every chief who headed a revolt against the Persians had made this the centre of his policy; the support of the priests must be gained by restoring them to their old supremacy, — a supremacy which they doubtless exaggerated in their uncriticised records of the past.

“The nobles or military caste, who had been compelled to submit to the generalship of mercenary leaders, Greek or Carian, were also disposed to welcome Alexander. The priestly caste, who had not forgotten the brutal outrages to the gods by Cambyses, were also induced to hail with satisfaction the conqueror of their hereditary enemies, the Persians. Alexander was careful to display the same conciliatory policy to the priests of Heliopolis and Memphis which he had adopted at Jerusalem. These circumstances partly explained the attitude of the Egyptians in hailing Alexander as their deliverer rather than their conqueror.”

In order to understand the comparatively peaceful accession of the Ptolemaic dynasty, we must bear in mind the cardinal principle which governed Alexander's occupation of Egypt, and his administration of the conquered province.

“Alexander had asserted the dignity and credibility of the Egyptian religion, and his determination to support it and receive support from it. He had refused to alter the local administrations, and even appointed some native officials to superintend it. On the other hand, he had placed the control of the garrison and the central authority in the hands of the Macedonians and Greeks, and had founded a new capital, which could not but be a Hellenistic city, and a rallying point for all the Greek traders throughout the country. The port of Canopus was formally closed, and its business transferred to the new city.”

On Alexander's death, in 323 B. C., after a very short illness, Ptolemy, one of his lieutenants, took over the regency of Egypt, and in 305 B. C. he was strong enough to declare himself king, and to assume the title of Soter (Saviour).

The history of the sixteen Ptolemies who form the Ptolemaic dynasty is made up of the reigns of a few powerful monarchs who held the throne sufficiently long to insure a stable government, and of a large number of short-lived and weak sovereigns, most of whom suffered a violent death. In short, the large proportion of those who died by violence is as noticeable as in the remarkable list of the prehistoric kings of Ireland. The Ptolemaic dynasty made a propitious commencement with the first three Ptolemies, who were able and powerful monarchs. During this period the prestige of Egypt among foreign nations was very high.

In 283 B. C. Ptolemy Soter died, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, leaving a record of prosperity which few men in the world have surpassed. Equally efficient whether as servant or as master, he made up for the absence of genius in war or diplomacy by his persistent good sense, the moderation of his demands, and the courtesy of his manners to friend and foe alike. While the old crown of Macedon was still the unsettled prize for which rival kings staked their fortunes, he and his fellow-in-arms, Seleukos, founded dynasties which resisted the disintegrations of the Hellenistic world for centuries.

Perhaps of all Ptolemy's achievements, whether foreign or domestic, his famous museum and library deserves to rank the highest. Very little is known about this remarkable seat of learning, and Strabo's description is painfully meagre. This great institution was rather a university than a museum, and was certainly the greatest glory of Ptolemaic Alexandria. The idea of making his capital, not merely a great commercial centre, but a centre of arts, sciences, and literature, seems to have gradually matured in the mind of Ptolemy Soter. The college or university, or whatever we call the museum, was under the most direct patronage of the king, and was, in fact, a part of the royal palace. It included, in addition to lecture-halls, class-rooms, dining-hall, etc., courts, cloisters, and gardens, and was under the rule of a principal nominated by the king, who also performed the offices of a kind of high-priest. This Alexandrian foundation was apparently as much a teaching and residential university as the famous European universities of Paris, Padua, or Oxford. In fact, it served equally with the renowned academies of Athens as a model for modern universities.

“It is indeed strange that so famous an institution should not have left us some account of its foundation, its constitution, and its early fortunes. No other school of such moment among the Greeks is so obscure to us now; and yet it was founded in broad daylight of history by a famous king, in one of the most frequented cities of the world. The whole modern literature on the subject is a literature of conjecture. If it were possible to examine the site, which now lies twenty feet deep under the modern city, many questions which we ask in vain might be answered. The real outcome of the great school is fortunately preserved. In literary criticism, in exact science, in geography, and kindred studies, the museum made advances in knowledge which were among the most important in the progress of human civilisation. If the produce in poetry and philosophy was poor, we must attribute such failure to the decadence of that century, in comparison with the classical days of Ionia and Athens. But in preserving the great masters of the golden age the library, which was part of the same foundation, did more than we can estimate.”

On the death of his father, Ptolemy Soter, Philadelphus, in accordance with the traditional policy of that age, puts to death his stepbrother, Argeus, his most formidable rival. According to the historians of that period, Philadelphus is said to have complained in after-life that one of the hardships in a despot's life was the necessity of putting people to death who had done no harm, merely for the sake of expediency!

Having now cleared the way to the throne, Philadelphus makes arrangements for his coronation. We borrow the following vivid picture of these magnificent ceremonies of Philadelphus from the pages of “Greek Life and Thought:”

“The first thing that strikes us is the ostentation of the whole affair, and how prominently costly materials were displayed. A greater part of the royal treasure at all courts in those days consisted not of coin, but of precious gold and silver vessels, and it seems as if these were carried in the procession by regiments of richly dressed people. And although so much plate was in the streets, there was a great sideboard in the banqueting-hall covered with vessels of gold, studded with gems. People had not, indeed, sunk so low in artistic feeling as to carry pots full of gold and silver coin, which was done in the triumph of Paulus Æmilius at Rome, but still a great part of the display was essentially the ostentation of wealth. How different must have been a Panathenaic festival in the days of Pericles! I note further that sculpture and painting of the best kind (the paintings of the Sicyonian artists are specially named) were used for the mere purpose of decoration. Then, in describing the appearance of the great chamber specially built for the banquet, Callixenus tells us that on the pilasters round the wall were a hundred marble reliefs by the first artists, in the space between them were paintings, and about them precious hangings with embroideries, representing mystical subjects, or portraits of kings. We feel ourselves in a sort of glorified Holborn Restaurant, where the resources of art are lavished on the walls of an eating-room. In addition to scarlet and purple, gold and silver, and skins of various wild beasts upon the walls, the pillars of the room represented palm-trees, and Bacchic thyrsi alternated, a design which distinctly points to Egyptian rather than Greek taste.

“Among other wonders, the Royal Zoölogical Gardens seemed to have been put under requisition, and we have a list of the various strange animals which joined in the parade. This is very interesting as showing us what can be done in the way of transporting wild beasts, and how far that traffic had reached. There were twenty-four huge lions, — the epithet points, no doubt, to the African, or maned lions, — twenty-six snow-white Indian oxen, eight Æthiopic oxen, fourteen leopards, sixteen panthers, four lynxes, three young panthers, a great white bear, a came-leopard, and an Æthiopic rhinoceros. The tiger and the hippopotamus seem to have missed the opportunity of showing themselves, for they were not mentioned.

“But the great Bacchic show was only one of a large number of mummeries, or allegories, which pervaded the streets; for example, Alexander, attended by Nike and Athene, the first Ptolemy escorted and crowned by the Greek cities of Asia Minor, and with Corinth standing beside him. Both gods and kings were there in statues of gold and ivory, and for the most part escorted by living attendants, — a curious incongruity all through the show.

“The procession lasted a whole day, being opened by a figure of the Morning Star and closed by Hesperus. Eighty thousand troops, cavalry and infantry, in splendid uniforms, marched past. The whole cost of the feast was over half a million of our money. But the mere gold crowns, offered by friendly towns and people, to the first Ptolemy and his queen, had amounted to that sum.”

The literary materials we possess for the reign of this Ptolemy are deplorably meagre, the few extant documents being, for the most part, fulsome panegyrics of Greek chroniclers, or bare records of isolated facts, which are not of great historical value. The most interesting event in this reign is the coronation ceremony, which was conceived and carried out on a scale of unparalleled splendour and magnificence. Contemporary writers seem to have been as much dazzled by these fêtes as the Alexandrian populace. Possibly there was some deep political motive behind these magnificent spectacles, which amused the people and induced them to forget the atrocious domestic murders with which Philadelphus inaugurated his reign.

“We have from Phylarchus a curious passage which asserts that, though the most august of all the sovereigns of the world, and highly educated, if ever there was one, he was so deceived and corrupted by unreasonable luxury as to expect he could live forever, and say that he alone had discovered immortality; and yet, being tortured many days by gout, when at last he got better and saw from his windows the natives on the river bank making their breakfast of common fare, and lying stretched anyhow on the sand, he sighed: ‘Alas that I was not born one of them!’”

Philadelphus is perhaps best known for his work in connection with the Alexandrian Museum, which had been founded by his father. He is generally allowed to have the credit of ordering the Greek translation of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint; but his actual responsibility for this is still a matter of controversy with ecclesiastical historians. It is not, however, disputed that Philadelphus commissioned Manetho to write his famous History of Egypt. Of Ptolemy's architectural achievements, the most important is the Pharos at Alexandria. This famous tower, from which the French and other Latin nations derive their name for lighthouse (Phare), once ranked among the seven wonders of the world. It was made of white marble, and was several stories high, and inside ran a circular causeway on a gentle incline, which could be ascended by chariots. It is not known how long this lighthouse remained erect, but it was supposed to have been destroyed by an earthquake in 1203 A. D.

A clever epigram of Posidippus, on a second century papyrus found a few years ago, is worth quoting:

“Ελληνων σωτηρα Φαρου σκοπον, ω ανα Πρωτεν, Σωστρατος εστησεν Δεξιφανους Κνιδιος ου γαρ εν Αιγυπτωι σκοποι ου ριον οἰ επι νησων αλλα χαμαι χηλη ναυλοχος εκτεταται.”

It is said that on a very calm day it is possible to discern the ruins beneath the sea off the head of the promontory.

In this reign a great impetus was given to the building of temples and other commemorative structures. In addition to the world-renowned Temple of Isis, a gem of Ptolemaic architecture, Ptolemy built several temples on the Delta, — notably one at Naukratis, and one of great size on the site of the ancient Sebennytus. He also built an important port on the Red Sea, named after his daughter Berenice, which is thus described in an article in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1887:

“The violent north winds that prevail in the Red Sea made the navigation so difficult and slow for the poor ships of the ancients that Ptolemy Philadelphia established the port of Berenike. This is two hundred miles south of the ancient ports at or near Kosseir, and consequently saved that distance and its attendant delays and dangers to the mariners from South Arabia and India. I suppose the best camels and the worst ships would choose Berenike, while the best ships and the worst camels would carry the Kosseir traffic. For it is interesting to note that Philadelphus, at the same time that he built Berenike, also rebuilt the old Kosseir port, and Myos Hormos was still kept in repair. In former days it is probable that many a sea-sick traveller, buffeted by contrary winds, landed joyfully at Berenike, and took the twelve-days' camel journey sooner than continue in his cramped ship, — just as now they disembark at Brindisi rather than Venice, on their way from India.”

An engineering work of the highest importance, and one which, as we shall see later, in the chapter on Modern Egypt, proved of permanent value in the development of the agricultural resources of the country, was the draining of Lake Moeris, and the reclamation and irrigation of a vast tract of country now known as Fayyum.

In a sketch of this important reign, some mention should be made of Ptolemy's famous consort, his second wife, Arsinoe. This, to add to the difficulties of ancient chroniclers and modern historians, was also the name of Philadelphus's first wife; but the fame of the latter is altogether eclipsed by that of the former. Even in the age of Berenices and Cleopatras, and other great princesses, Arsinoe stands out prominently. Though most Egyptian queens were in a manner deified, none, with the exception of the last Cleopatra, exercised greater political influence. She took her place beside the king, not only on coins, but among those statues at the entrance of the Odeum at Athens, where the series of the Egyptian kings was set up. She was the only queen among them. At Olympia, where there were three statues of the king, she had her place. Pausanias also saw , at Helicon, a statue of her in bronze, riding upon an ostrich. It is very likely that this statue, or a replica, was present to the mind of Callimachus, when he spoke, in the “Coma Berenices,” of the winged horse, brother of the Æthiopian Memnon, who is the messenger of Queen Arsinoe. Arsinoe died some three or four years before her royal husband, and Pliny tells us that the disconsolate king, after her death, lent an ear to the wild scheme of an architect to build her a temple with a lodestone roof, which might sustain in mid-air an iron statuette of the deified lady, who was identified with Isis (especially at Philae) and with Aphrodite. She had an Arsinoeion over her tomb at Alexandria, another apparently in the Fayyum, and probably many elsewhere. Her temple on the promontory between Alexandria and the Canopic mouth, dedicated to her by Kallikrates, where she was known as Aphrodite Zephyritis, is mentioned by Strabo, and celebrated in many epigrams. He also mentions two towns in Ætolia and Crete, two in Cilicia, two in Cyprus, one in Cyrene, besides those in Egypt, called after her. She seems only to have wanted a Plutarch and a Roman lover to make her into another Cleopatra.

Of all the Ptolemies, Euergetes I. is the only great conqueror, and his reign should be the most interesting to the student were it not for the scantiness of material. Very little is known of this shadowy and enigmatic sovereign, and of the actual part he took in the great campaigns against the Seleucides and Cilicia — one exceeded in importance only by the chief ones of Alexander — nothing is told us by the Greek chroniclers. The events of the great campaign known as the Third Syrian War have, indeed, only within recent years been known to modern historians through the accounts in the famous Petrie papyrus. Other important evidence for the history of this Ptolemy is the famous stone inscription known as the Decree of Canopus, recovered by Lepsius, in 1865, from the sands of Tanis. It was passed by the Synod of Priests in the ninth year of this reign. It is hoped that similar decrees may be found at Philae, for in 1895 the Egyptian government intrusted the researches here to Colonel Lyons, R. E.

The difficulty of unravelling the intricate labyrinthine maze of Egyptian history during the three hundred years of Ptolemaic rule is intensified, owing to the bewildering recurrence of certain royal names. It is difficult to differentiate the innumerable princesses bearing the names of Berenice, Arsinoe, or Cleopatra, and, indeed, some of the Greek historians have mixed these names up in a most bewildering fashion. Another difficulty which confronts the student of this period is the custom of the sovereigns marrying their sisters. Then again, many of the kings and queens reign conjointly. For instance we have Philometer (Ptolemy VIII.) and Euergetes II. (Ptolemy IX.) together on the throne of Egypt.

In a sketch of the age of the Ptolemies, a notice of the first three sovereigns must necessarily occupy a space which seems somewhat disproportionate for a period which fills barely a hundred years, — about one-third of the whole dynasty. But considering the importance of these reigns, this prominence does not, I think, show a want of appreciation of historic proportion, which has, of course, little to do with chronological proportion.

“Tried by a comparative standard,” writes Mr. David Hogarth, “the only monarchs of the Nile Valley that approach to absolute greatness are Ptolemy Philadelphus I., Saladin, certain of the Mamelukes, and Mehemet Ali; for these held as their own what the vainglorious raiders of the twelfth and nineteenth dynasties but touched and left, and I know no prettier irony than that, among all those inscriptions of Pharaohs who ‘smite the Asiatics’ on temple walls and temple pylons, there should occur no record of the prowess of the one king of Egypt who really smote Asiatics hip and thigh, — Alexander, son of Philip.”

With the reign of Ptolemy IV. (Philopater), a tyrannical and self-indulgent king, begins the decline of the Egyptian kingdom under a series of dynastic monarchs. Philopater continued the traditional foreign policy of his ancestors; and though successful in his campaign against Syria, now ruled by Antiochus the Great, Egypt derived but little benefit, as the war was terminated by a peace in which the terms were distinctly unfavourable to Egypt, and were due to the weakness and incapacity of Philopater.

The early events of the reign are thus summarised by Polybius: