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September 2017

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Thutmose III

Thutmose III 1479 – 1425 BC. Thutmose III possessed all the qualities of a great ruler. A brilliant general who never lost a battle, he also excelled as an administrator and statesman. He was an accomplished horseman, archer, athlete and discriminating patron of the arts. His reign, with the exception of the uncharacteristic spite against the memory of Hatshepsut, was notable for its lack of bad taste and brutality. Thutmose had no time for pompous, self-indulgent bombast and his records show him to be a sincere and fair-minded man.

During Hatshepsut’s reign, there were no wars. Egypt’s neighbouring countries regularly paid tribute but as is often the case when a new king comes to the throne subject nations are inclined to test his resolve.

Thutmose found himself faced with a coalition of the princes of Kadesh and Megiddo, who had mobilised a large army. Also the Mesopotamians and their kinsmen living in Syria refused to pay tribute and declared themselves free of Egypt. Not daunted, Thutmose immediately set out with his army and crossing the Sinai desert he marched to the city of Gaza, which had remained loyal to Egypt. The events of the campaign are well documented because of Thutmose’s private secretary, Tjaneni, kept a record which was later copied and engraved onto the walls of the temple of Karnak.

This first campaign revealed Thutmose to be the military genius of his time. He understood the value of logistics and lines of supply, the necessity of rapid movement and sudden surprise attack. He lead by example and was also probably the first person in history to really utilise sea-power to support his campaigns.

Megiddo was his first objective because it was a key point and had to be taken at all costs. When he reached Aaruna Thutmose held a council with all his generals. There were two routes to Megiddo a long, easy and level road around the hills, which the enemy expected Thutmose to take, and a route which was narrow, difficult and cut through the hills. His generals advised him to take the easy road through the hills, saying “horse must follow behind horse and man behind man also, and our vanguard will be engaged while our rearguard is at Aaruna without fighting” But Thutmose’s reply to this was “As I live, as I am the beloved of Ra and praised by my father Amon, I will go on the narrow road. Let those who will go on the roads you have mentioned; and let anyone who will, follow my Majesty” Now, when the soldiers heard this bold speech they shouted with one accord We follow thy Majesty whithersoever thy Majesty goes”.

Thutmose led his men on foot through the hills “horse behind horse and man behind man, his Majesty showing the way by his own footsteps”. It took about twelve hours for the vanguard to reach the valley on the other side and another seven hours before the last troops emerged. Thutmose himself waited at the head of the pass till the last man was safely through.

The sudden and unexpected appearance of Egyptians in their rear forced the allies to make a hasty re-deployment of their troops. There are said to have been over 300 allied kings, each with his own army, an immense force. However, Thutmose was determined and when the allies saw him at the head of his men leading them forward, they lost heart for the fight and fled for the city of Megiddo “As if terrified by spirits: they left their horse and chariots of silver and gold”

The Egyptian army, being young and inexperienced fell upon the plunder of the battlefield and lost the opportunity of taking the city immediately. Thutmose was very angry, he said to them “If only the troops of his Majesty had not given their hearts to spoiling the things of the enemy, they would have taken Megiddo at that moment. For the ruler of every northern country is in Megiddo and it’s capture is as the capture of a thousand cities.”

Megiddo was besieged. A moat was dug around the city walls and this was completed by a strong wooden palisade. The king gave orders to let nobody through except those who signalled at the gate that they wished to give themselves up.

The siege lasted some seven months but eventually the vanquished kings sent out their sons and daughters to sue for peace. “All those things with which they had come to fight against my Majesty, now they brought them as tribute to my Majesty, while they themselves stood upon their walls giving praise to my Majesty, and begging that the Breath of Life be given to their nostrils”

They received good terms for surrender. An oath of allegiance was imposed upon them “We will not again do evil against Menkheper Ra our good Lord, in our lifetime, for we have seen his might, and he has designed to give us breath.”

Thutmose III is compared with Napoleon but unlike Napoleon he never lost a battle. He conducted sixteen campaigns in Palestine, Syria and Nubia and his treatment of the conquered was always humane. He established a sort of Pax Egyptiaca over his empire. Syria and Palestine were obliged to keep the peace and the region as a whole experience an unprecedented degree of prosperity.

Thutmose III’s impact upon Egyptian culture was profound. He was a national hero who was revered long after his time. Indeed his name was held in awe even to the last days of Egyptian history. Besides his military achievements he carried out many building works at Karnak. He also set up a number of obelisks in Egypt. One of which, mistakenly called Cleopatra’s Needle, now stands on the Embankment in London. It’s brother is in Central Park in New York. Another is near the Lateran in Rome and there is also one of his obelisks in Istanbul. Therefore, he has had an unwitting presence in some of the most powerful nations of the last two thousand years.

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Pyramid of Khafre

Pyramid of Khafre – Giza, Lower Egypt. Khafre (Chephren) sited his pyramid at Giza, a short distance to the south-west of the monument of his father Khufu. Khafre’s brother Djedefre had succeeded their father on the throne but only reigned for around eight years and had chosen to site his own pyramid at Abu Roash to the north. Returning to Giza, Khafre’s monuments have survived better than most and his pyramid makes an impressive backdrop to the Great Sphinx which lies next to his causeway and was probably part of the pyramid complex.

Appearing to be bigger than Khufu’s pyramid because of the rising ground on which it was built and its steeper angle of slope, Khafre’s pyramid actually had a base measurement of 215m and a height of 143.5m, making it slightly smaller than his father’s. It is the only pyramid to be preserved almost to its full height by the casing stones remaining at its apex. Belzoni, in 1816, was the first to enter the pyramid in modern times. He discovered the upper entrance and underground chambers and is commemorated in an inscription by the English Colonel Fitzclarence on the upper entrance. In 1860 Auguste Mariette found seven statues of Khafre while excavating the valley temple, including a wonderfully preserved diorite statue of the king protected by a Horus falcon, one of the great masterpieces of Egyptian sculpture now in the Cairo Museum. More recent investigations of Khafre’s pyramid complex, using modern archaeological techniques, have been undertaken by the Giza Plateau Mapping Project under the directorships of Mark Lehner and Zahi Hawass.

The core of the pyramid, which was built on a levelled terrace, was of rough irregular limestone blocks, left behind when the casing blocks of Tura limestone were stripped off in antiquity, although a band of more regular-shaped stone can be seen just below the remaining casing. A lower course of the pyramid’s outer skin is composed of red granite which are well preserved on the southern side.

There are two entrances on the northern side of the pyramid. The first or ‘upper entrance’, found at a height of 11.5m, leads to a descending corridor which straightens out to join an ascending passage from the ‘lower entrance’. It is the lower entrance, at ground level which is used today to access the structure. This leads to a lower corridor which has an unfinished chamber cut into its western side and it is suggested that the lower gallery was begun on the assumption that the pyramid was to be built further north, or was intended to be larger, as the two entrances show. This may have been a serdab chamber however, similar the the ‘Queens Chamber’ in Khufu’s pyramid. The lower passage then ascends to meet the entrance corridor from above, and continues horizontally to the burial chamber.

Khafre’s burial chamber lies on the vertical axis of the pyramid and is simply constructed in a pit in the bedrock. The roof of the chamber is composed of pented limestone blocks, similar to those used in Khufu’s pyramid to relieve the weight of stone. The words ‘Discovered by G Belzoni – March 2 1816′ (in Italian) appear on the south wall of the burial chamber, although he had already discovered writing on the west wall showing that the pyramid had been entered previously, probably around the 12th century AD. The burial chamber was found to contain Khafre’s red granite sarcophagus, sunk slightly into the floor, it’s cover broken and a nearby pit which would have contained the canopic chest.

A satellite pyramid (G2-a) belonging to Khafre’s complex is now almost gone, with only the foundations remaining on the southern side of the king’s pyramid. It is currently believed to have been a cult pyramid and not to contain a burial.

The huge mortuary temple of Khafre’s complex is separated from the east face of the pyramid by a limestone pavement, which runs around all four sides of the pyramid. The temple was excavated in 1910 by Holscher and von Sieglin and shown to have consisted of an entrance hall, courtyard, five statue chapels, store-rooms and an offering hall. Sadly the structure was quarried for its stone in ancient times, but the surviving foundations show its innovative construction method, using massive core blocks of limestone cased with finer quality stone and lined on the inside with red granite. In the massive open courtyard there were recesses for huge statues of the king. Five boat pits were discovered to the north and south of the mortuary temple, but all of them had been plundered.

The ruined causeway leads from the mortuary temple, 494m south to Khafre’s valley temple, which is in a better state of preservation – the only well preserved valley temple found to date. This too was constructed from huge limestone monoliths, faced with granite and was discovered by Mariette in 1852 who wrongly described it as the Temple of the Sphinx. Huge rectangular blocks of Aswan granite form pillars and lintels, giving the structure a very distinctive style, reminiscent of the Osirion at Abydos. Originally there were 24 diorite statues of the king seated on his throne around the walls, of which only one survives to be seen in Cairo Egyptian Museum. Although it’s function is not yet clear, it is thought that the valley temple may have been used for the embalming rites before the king’s funeral and in 1995, traces of a ‘purification tent’ were found near the temple, along with two ramps and underground tunnels.

To the north of Khafre’s valley temple lies the Great Sphinx, inside its own enclosure. It is currently thought to have been modelled during Khafre’s reign, and would have been the first colossal statue in ancient Egypt.

Entrance

The three main pyramids are open on an annual rotation with one of them usually being closed for restoration each year. Tickets for Khafre’s Pyramid cost EGP 30 and are on sale at 8.00am and 1.00pm. The numbers may be limited.

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Temple of Rameses II

Temple of Rameses II – Sohag, Abydos. About 300m from Seti I’s temple at Abydos, on the western edge of the village of Beni Mansur, Rameses II built an another temple for himself. This was also dedicated mainly to the Osirian cult but was a more conventional design than his father’s temple. It was built when he was still co-ruler with Seti I. The walls of the temple of Rameses are very reduced, now only about 2m high, but the plan of the structure is still plain to see. The temple’s greatest attraction is the brilliantly coloured painted reliefs which are possibly the finest in any monument built by Rameses II.

The walls of the temple are built of limestone, with sandstone pillars. The first pylon and court are now ruined and the pink granite portal leads straight into a second court surrounded by a colonnade of Osirid pillars on its north, east and south sides. None of the pillars is preserved to their full height and the engaged Osirid statues of the king all lack their heads and shoulders. The north wall of the court depicts processions of priests and offering bearers with a decorated bull and gazelles, as well as soldiers, Libyans and negroes. Also on the north wall there are some interesting graffiti. Some ancient amateur artist incised an image of the god In-hert and a painted priest before him bears the inscription ‘Djed-Iah, the justified, wab-priest of Osiris, Djedi-ankh-f’.

At the back of the court on the western side is a raised portico with two chapels dedicated to Seti I and the king’s deified ancestors on the left and two chapels to the nine gods of the Ennead and Rameses II (and Osiris Khenty-Amentiu) on the right. The shrine of the ancestors once contained a table of kings on its north wall, part of which (the ‘Second Abydos List’) is now in the British Museum.

On the north wall of the portico, Rameses carved nine name-rings of the Asiatic tribes he conquered. A magnificent highly polished black granite gateway, 5m tall and decorated with scenes and inscriptions, which has been restored in the centre of the portico leads us into the first hypostyle hall.

The first hypostyle was decorated while the young Rameses was still his father’s co-ruler though his cartouches were later altered to contain his own pharaonic titles. Eight rectangular pillars supported the roof which is now missing. The decoration of the hypostyle is similar to that in the court and portico, but has a brightly coloured dado on its lower walls depicting the Nile gods. These are painted in different colours; red represents the Nile at inundation, blue represents winter and green, summer. At the western end of the hall’s south wall, a narrow staircase ascended to the roof, though there are now only 12 stairs remaining.

The second hypostyle contains eight sandstone pillars with three chapels on each of the north, west and south sides. The northern chapels are dedicated to Thoth, Min and Osiris. The southern chapels are very badly damaged but it is thought that the central one was dedicated to Osiris with a clothing room where the god’s daily garments were stored. The chapels on the western side of the hall were dedicated to Amun-Re, Osiris and possibly Horus. In the latter shrine on the north wall there is a colourful relief of the goddess Hekat ‘Mistress of Abydos’, usually portrayed as a frog, but in this case showing her human face. Next to her the god Anubis ‘Lord of the Sacred Land’ also has the head of a man rather than the usual jackal. This is the only known example of Anubis with a human head.

The Central shrine on the western side of the hypostyle is the ‘alabaster’ sanctuary of Osiris where we can see a restored statue group in grey granite which was brought from another location in the temple and depicts (probably) Osiris, Isis, Horus, Seti I and Rameses II.

In the corners of the western wall at the north and south are two chambers thought to be statue halls which also have some very colourful reliefs. The each contain decorated niches and the southern chamber has a beautiful relief of Rameses offering to Osiris who is being protected by a winged djed pillar. This is thought to be one of the earliest representations of a symbol which became popular in later dynasties.

Only the lower parts of the exterior walls still exist and the northern and western walls bear a version of Rameses’ Battle of Kadesh in beautiful incised relief, though not as complete as in some of his later monuments. On the southern exterior wall there is the lower part of a calendar of feasts which lists offerings provided by the royal endowment to be presented on the days of the festivals. Beneath this Rameses describes his temple and seems to be accurate in what remains of the text. He describes a pylon of white limestone, granite doorways and a sanctuary of pure alabaster which must have been very beautiful in its time.

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Ramesses II – The King of Kings

Ramesses II 1279 – 1213 BC — Ramesses II, son of Seti I, was around thirty years old when he became king of Egypt – and then reigned for 67 years. He had many wives, among them some of his own near relatives, and was the father of about 111 sons and 51 daughters.

As was usual in those days, the threat of foreign aggression against Egypt was always at its greatest on the ascension of a new Pharaoh. Subject kings no doubt saw it as their duty to test the resolve of a new king in Egypt. Likewise, it was incumbent on the new Pharaoh it makes a display of force if he was to keep the peace during his reign. Therefore, in his fourth year as pharaoh, Rameses was fighting in Syria in a series of campaigns against the Hittites and their allies. The Hittites, however, were a very strong foe and the war lasted for twenty years.

On the second campaign, Ramesses found himself in some difficulties when attacking “the deceitful city of Kadesh”. This action nearly cost him his life. He had divided his army into four sections: the Amun, Ra, Ptah and Setekh divisions. Rameses himself was in the van, leading the Amon division with the Ra division about a mile and a half behind. He had decided to camp outside the city – but unknown to him, the Hittite army was hidden and waiting. They attacked and routed the Ra division as it was crossing a ford. With the chariots of the Hittites in pursuit, Ra fled in disorder – spreading panic as they went. They ran straight into the unsuspecting Amun division. With half his army in flight, Rameses found himself alone. With only his bodyguard to assist him, he was surrounded by two thousand five hundred Hittite chariots.

The king, realizing his desperate position, charged the enemy with his small band of men. He cut his way through, slaying large numbers as he escaped. “I was,” said Ramesses, “by myself, for my soldiers and my horsemen had forsaken me, and not one of them was bold enough to come to my aid.”

At this point, the Hittites stopped to plunder the Egyptian camp – giving the Egyptians time to regroup with their other two divisions. They then fought for four hours, at the end of which time both sides were exhausted and Ramesses was able to withdraw his troops.

In the end, neither side was victorious. And finally – after many years of war – Ramesses was obliged to make a treaty with the prince of the Hittites. It was agreed that Egypt was not to invade Hittite territory, and likewise the Hittites were not to invade Egyptian territory. They also agreed on a defense alliance to deter common enemies, mutual help in suppressing rebellions in Syria, and an extradition treaty.

Thirteen years after the conclusion of this treaty in the thirty-fourth year of his reign, Ramesses married the daughter of the Hittite prince. Her Egyptian name was Ueret-ma-a-neferu-Ra: meaning ” Great One who sees the Beauties of Ra”.

Although brave in battle, Ramesses was an inept general – and I wonder how Thutmose III would have dealt with the Hittites. Maybe Ramesses also pondered this because he spent the rest of his life bolstering his image with huge building projects. His name is found everywhere on monuments and buildings in Egypt and he frequently usurped the works of his predecessors and inscribed his own name on statues which do not represent him. The smallest repair of a sanctuary was sufficient excuse for him to have his name inscribed on every prominent part of the building. His greatest works were the rock-hewn temple of Abu Simbel, dedicated to Amun, Ra-Harmachis, and Ptah; its length is 185 feet, its height 90 feet, and the four colossal statues of the king in front of it – cut from the living rock – are 60 feet high. He also added to the temple of Amenhotep III at Luxor and completed the hall of columns at Karnak – still the largest columned room of any building in the world.

Although he is probably the most famous king in Egyptian history, his actual deeds and achievements cannot be compared with the great kings of the 18th dynasty. He is, in my opinion, unworthy of the title ”Great”. A show-off and propagandist, he made his mark by having his name, like a graffiti artist, inscribed on every possible stone. Whereas kings such as Thutmose III left a stronger and more dynamic Egypt, after Ramesses death Egypt fell into decline. Luckily for Egypt, her prestige and pre-eminence as a world superpower were such that this process took a long time. Only one other king, Ramesses III (1184 – 1153 BC), was able to temporarily halt this process.