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The Egyptians page 2

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Ramessu or Ramesses III. (1269-1244 b.c.), coming to the throne after a period of civil war and anarchy, had a reign made glorious by successes against the Bedouins on the north-east, the Libyans to the north-west, and a vast confederacy of foes from Italy and Greece who came against Egypt with naval and military forces by way of Syria and Palestine. Ramesses met them near the eastern mouths of the Nile, and defeated them utterly in several actions by land and water. He followed up this by an invasion of Syria, and then returned, after asserting his power, to build, to plant the country with trees, and to extend trade with Arabia and Ethiopia by way of the Red Sea. A long period of material, moral, and artistic decline followed under the Ramessids, ten sovereigns of the name of Ramesses.

In the year 1091 a new dynasty came to the throne in the person of Her-hor, high-priest of Ammon at Thebes. The seat of government was placed at Tanis, in the Delta, whence they are called the " Tanite kings." During part of this period David and Solomon were reigning in Palestine and Syria, and we find the wise king's subjects trading with Egypt for chariots and horses, and himself marrying an Egyptian princess. The plan of Solomon's Temple, with the two pillars "Jachin" and "Boaz" in place of obelisks, was inspired by Egyptian models.

In 961 an official of Semitic race gained royal power. This was Sheshonk, the "Shishak " of Scripture, who gave a friendly reception at his court to Jeroboam, afterwards king of Israel, and in his interest invaded Judah with a force of chariots, horse, and foot. His advance to Jerusalem was a mere triumphal march, and he retired after plundering the Temple and the palace, leaving Rehoboam on the throne as a prince tributary to Egyptian monarchs. In another campaign he captured for Jeroboam certain Levitical cities hostile to the king of Israel and was virtually master as far as Galilee, and from the Mediterranean to the Syrian Desert. There was, in later days, further warfare between the Jews and Egypt. Asa, the grandson of Rehoboam, defeated an Egyptian army with great slaughter, and re-established the independence of Judah, putting an end for three centuries to Egyptian hopes of Asiatic dominion. Disintegration of the monarchy began, and Egypt was divided into a number of principalities, with rival dynasties at Tanis, Memphis, Thebes, and other cities. Conquest by the Ethiopians followed in due course. In 730 b.c. Shabak or Sabaco subdued the country, and the Ethiopians, adopting the old religion of the land and repairing the temples, were in possession for about 60 years. During this time -Egyptian and Assyrian armies met in Philistia, and the defeat of the African forces, in 720 and in 701, left Egypt exposed to Assyrian attacks. In 672 Esarhaddon, son of Sennacherib, the king of Assyria who had warred with Hezekiah, invaded Egypt. with a great host, completely defeated the forces of Tehrak or Tirhaka, and ended the rule of the Ethiopian kings by overrunning the country from the Mediterranean to the First Cataract. The Assyrian conqueror divided the land into 20 districts, each with its governor and an Assyrian garrison in the capital town. Several attempts to re-establish Ethiopian power failed, and the end of olden Egypt seemed to have arrived.

A revival, however, was to come. Psamatik or Psammitichus I., a man of Libyan race, ruler of one of the principalities, obtained from Gyges, king of Lydia, a strong force of lonians and Carians, proclaimed himself king of all Egypt, crushed in battle the other petty princes, and met with no opposition from Assyria, then fully engaged with Asiatic foes. This energetic rebel thus became sole and absolute monarch of the country, from the mouths of the Nile to Elephantine, in b.c. 653, and held sway for over 40 years. His capital was fixed at Sais, in the Delta, and the new ruler strengthened his position by forming permanent camps of the foreign mercenaries, and by marrying a princess of one of the former dynasties. He then set to work to raise the country from its ruined condition, repairing canals and roads, encouraging tillage, reviving the arts, and throwing open Egypt, for the first time in her history, to the ability and enterprise of foreigners. Greeks came in and settled in the Delta, and commerce between Egypt and Greece arose.

The son of Psamatik, Neco or Neku, beginning his reign in 610 showed his nautical enterprise by an endeavour, foiled by excessive loss of life among the labourers, to reopen the canal then SS-up by Nile mud and desert sand, which had been, made by Seti I. and Ramesses II. between the Nile and the Red Sea. His object was to afford communication between the two fleets of triremes which, by the aid of Greek workmen, he had built on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Under his auspices, Phoenician mariners sailed round Africa from the Red Sea, by the "Cape of Storms," as it was afterwards called, and the Straits of Gibraltar ("Pillars of Hercules") to the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, which they reached in the third year, after the most remarkable and daring maritime exploit of ancient times. This energetic monarch next turned.his attention to Syria and adjacent countries, and, defeating Josiah, king of Judah, at Megiddo, conquered Palestine, carrying-off Josiah's second son, Jehoahaz, as a hostage, and leaving the eldest son, Jehoiakim, at Jerusalem as a tributary ruler. Three years later, in 605 b.c. the Egyptian army was utterly defeated at Karkhemish, on the Euphrates, by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon; and thus for ever ended Egyptian hopes of empire in Asia.

His successors, Psamatik II. and Apries or Hophra, warred with the Ethiopians and with Nebuchadnezzar, and from 570 to 526 we find Aahmes or Amasis ruling Egypt as a tributary king under Babylon. Material prosperity was great in this time of political decline. Agriculture prospered through the regularity of the overflow of the bountiful river, and sculptors, painters, and builders of every class flourished under a ruler who was a lavish patron of Egyptian art in every form.

The country of conservatism and isolation now came under the powerful influence of the Greek progressive spirit, and Ancient Egypt's dissolution was hastened by the introduction of foreign elements. Amasis, at the close of his reign, rashly provoked the new great empire of Persia by an attack on Cyprus, and his son, Psamatik III., was totally defeated at Pelusium by the troops of Cambyses. This event, in 525 b.c., made Egypt nominally a Persian province, whose history was chequered by desperate revolts against Persian monarchs. It was about 450 b.c. that Herodotus visited Egypt to obtain the information embodied in the Second Book of his immortal work. As Persia declined in power, Egypt, whose tributary' kings had armies of Greek mercenaries, was for long periods practically free from control, and in 375 b.c. Artaxerxes Mnemon of Persia, having hired a large force of Greeks under the Athenian general Iphicrates, wholly failed in an effort to re-establish Persian power. The successful Egyptian ruler, Nectanebo, was regarded by his subjects as a hero and a demigod, and his reign was marked by an artistic revival of which the British Museum contains proofs in two small obelisks of black granite exquisitely finished, and in the very beautiful sarcophagus prepared for Nectanebo himself. Under his successors the country was troubled by civil war and by unsuccessful revolt against Persia, ending in 340 b.c. with absolute subjugation.

An account of Ancient Egyptian civilisation must be sought elsewhere. The history has shown the marvellous precocity of this Hamite people in working out for themselves a full development of civil and military organisation, accompanied by artistic excellence of the highest order in several departments. Their religion consisted in the worship of personified forces of nature - the rising sun, the overflow of the Nile, Isis the earth, wife of Osiris the creative power - and of many other members of a Pantheon largely made up of deities derived from local cults. At Memphis, great reverence was shown to Ptah, the first creator, chief of the gods. There was kept the sacred bull Hapi or Apis, believed to be an incarnation of the deity. At Thebes, we find the worship of Ammon (Amun), the god of heaven; and Ra, reverenced at Heliopolis or On, represented the power of deity embodied in the sun. The religious regard paid to animals is well known. The priests and educated people were believers in one God, whom the sacred books, known only to the hierarchy and to certain initiated persons, describe in terms worthy of the Being revered by the most enlightened monotheists of all times. The universal belief included the tenets of immortality of the soul; judgment after death; transmigrations; the final annihilation of the hopelessly wicked, and the ultimate absorption of the good into the eternal Deity. The government was that of a despotic monarch, much influenced by the priests, regarded by the people as a god incarnate, to be approached and addressed with abject reverence. There were strongly marked social divisions, but no castes in the Hindu sense, as has been wrongly supposed. The large class of nobles were chiefly great landowners living on their estates, with a vast body of dependents, servants, artisans, and labourers of various kinds. The priests, richly endowed with land, were very powerful. A numerous official class held posts at court and throughout the land, commanding also, as occasion needed, in armies and fleets. A favourable feature of the social system is shown in the fact that a lad of the lowest class, the son of a labourer on the soil or of an artisan, sat on the same bench at the public school with the son of the noble landowner, and might, by adopting the literary life, arrive at official employment, and advance by merit to the highest post in the empire. Nothing in Ancient Egypt more warmly commends itself to the most enlightened modern feeling than the high position assigned to woman. Women were never secluded from the world, as in some Oriental countries. They shared in the festivities of social life; they had their place in religious processions and the ritual of the temple-worship. The "Egyptian wife was the associate of her husband, under his rule, but never a mere toy or drudge. She was the manager of the household, the guardian of the children in their early years, and the confidential friend of her "lord and master."

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