Page images

Theban temples. Such, among many, is the temple of Seboua, half way between the first and second cataract (see Fig. 99). It was built in this reign. The traveller, as he approaches, first meets with two colossal standing statues of Rameses II. He then passes along an avenue between two rows of sphinxes, eight on each side. This brings him to the entrance, a narrow door between the usual two solid square towers. On each side of the door is another colossal statue of the king. Beyond this gateway is the large courtyard, and from this a second door leads into the hall, with a stone roof, upheld by twelve columns. Beyond the hall are the dark and more sacred chambers, tunnelled into the side of the hill. These rock-hewn temples explain the origin of Theban architecture. The solid front of every temple is copied from the face of a hill, which has been cut smooth for the entrance. The sides slope like the hill, though in a less degree. The inner sanctuary of the temple, when built, is as dark as if hollowed out of the hill. In each case it is a set of dark rooms. And if the roof of the cave

Fig. 99.

is sometimes carved as if formed of masonry, it is only the

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


cave then borrowing back again something from the building for which it had first served as a model.

(41) Egyptian art had now reached its greatest beauty, and it was not yet overloaded with ornament. But the artists still copied the old stiff models of the human figure; and, while their birds and beasts are usually true to nature, every drawing of a man or woman upon the wall shows a front eye on a side face, and a front chest with legs walking to the side. Their religion and policy alike forbad change in this as in so many other matters. The population of the country may be reckoned at five millions and a half, as there were seven hundred thousand registered tenants of the crown of the military age. If the term of military service were three years, as we afterwards find it, this might allow a standing army of perhaps fifty or sixty thousand men, a number quite large enough to weaken the state and to endanger liberty.

(42) By the late conquests in Ethiopia, the gold mines had fallen into the hands of the Egyptians. Though hitherto the metal may have been only picked up by the unsettled tribes of the desert, it had yet been a source of great wealth to Ethiopia; but when the mines were worked by Egyptian skill, the produce seemed boundless. The gold was found in quartz veins within a slaty rock, at various spots in the Nubian desert, between Derr on the Nile and Souakin on the coast. By taking possession of Napata, at the fifth cataract, Rameses had a town yet nearer to these mines than the former kings. They were said to bring in, each year, the improbable sum of thirty-two millions of minæ, or seventy millions sterling, as was recorded in the hieroglyphics under the figure of the king in the Memnonium, who is there offering the produce to Amun-Ra. To these mines criminals and prisoners taken in war were sent in chains, to work under a guard of soldiers; and such was their unhappy state, banished from the light of heaven, and robbed of everything that makes life valuable, that the Egyptian priests represented this as the punishment of the wicked souls in the next world. No other known mines were

Ann. ij.

Diod. Sic.

lib. i. 49.

so rich. From the word Knoub, gold, the country has received the name of Nubia, or the land of gold. By the Hebrews it was called Cub. A port on the Red Sea, the

Ophir of the Hebrews, was afterwards by the Ptolemics named the Golden Berenice. Gold was henceforth more abundant in Egypt than in any other country in the world; and food and every natural product must have been dearer. Under these circumstances, while they may have imported iron and copper from Cyprus, oil and silver from Greece, with a few other articles from Arabia and Palestine, they could have exported very little beyond gold. The gold mines helped the people's industry in performing their great works in building and in war; but after a time it undermined that industry, and made the country an easier and richer prey for its neighbours.

(43) The European traveller who now visits Ethiopia, and admires the ruins of the highly ornamented and costly temples between the first and second cataracts, some built, but more hollowed out of the rock, and mostly of the reign of Rameses II., naturally asks what could have supported a population numerous enough either to make or to enjoy such great works. The gold mines must furnish the answer. The valley of land which could be cultivated is too narrow for more than a handful of poor villagers. A larger number could only have lived by the help of foreign trade or home manufactures. And Nubia enjoyed both of these while Egypt was well governed. The gold mines in the desert towards the east brought a highly paid carrying trade to the banks of the river, and particularly to those towns where the boats or their freights had to be helped over the cataracts. The home manufacture was not so profitable; it was in the sandstone quarries. These employed unskilled labourers, who sent off the building stone to Syene and Philæ, and to all towns higher up the stream than the sandstone of Silsilis; and they also employed sculptors, who made the statues and carved the hieroglyphics on small slabs, and scribes, who drew the hieroglyphics for the sculptors to cut. The sculptors, who were all of the priestly order, and their labourers the quarrymen, following the religious custom of Egypt, made some of the caves out of which the blocks were cut into temples to Amun-Ra, and Athor, and Knef, and Pthah; and as they were servants of the crown, they cut upon the face of the rock the colossal statues of the king and queen; while the pillars which they left within the cave to

uphold the roof they also shaped into statues of the monarch. In this way, and in this way only, can we explain how and why these cave temples were made in a tract of land seemingly so little able to support any beyond a poor and scanty population. But Thebes, as the seat of government, had the larger share of this wealth. Like Nubia the breadth of its productive soil was not enough to support the expenses of the wars and buildings which it at this time carried on. Its great prosperity was in part accidental, arising from these gold mines, as that of England from its coal and iron; and when, after a few centuries, these were worked out, and its greatness rested only on its agriculture, and other branches of industry, it was brought within very narrow limits.


(44) The copper mines on the range of Mount Sinai were still worked by the Egyptians. Those opened in the reigns of Chofo and Nef-chofo, the builders of the Arabia. great pyramids, were in Wady Mugareh, a desert valley without water, not far from the route followed by the caravans. These were worked as late as the reigns of Thothmosis II. and Thothmosis III.; but latterly the miners had opened other veins on the side of the mountain of Sarbout el Cadem, in the same neighbourhood; and the remains of a small temple and of tombs ornamented with hieroglyphics prove that the Egyptian settlement there, in the reign of Rameses II., was rather a town than an encampment. But the supplies of food must have been brought from Egypt. The quantity of copper produced must have been small, from the scarcity of fuel, which was charcoal made from the acacia-tree; and the working of the mines must have ceased with the fall of Thebes and the opening of the Mediterranean trade, which then brought the metal in larger quantities from the island of Cyprus. The modern names enable us to distinguish the Egyptian halting-places; and Tabe, the city, a spot on the coast, to the west of Sarbout el Cadem, was probably the port from which the copper was shipped to Egypt.

(45) We now possess but few traces of the Egyptian laws and customs, by which to explain the form of government; but there are two circumstances which throw some light upon it, and prove that it was of a mixed form, between a monarchy

and an aristocracy. First, every soldier was a landowner, and arms were only trusted to those who had such Diod. Sic. a stake in the country as would make them lib. i. 73. wish to guard it from enemies abroad and from tyrants and tumults at home. These men formed a part of the aristocracy. A second remarkable institution was the hereditary priesthood. Every clergyman, sexton, and undertaker, every physician and druggist, every lawyer, writingclerk, schoolmaster, and author, every sculptor, painter, and land-measurer, every magistrate and every fortune-teller, belonged to the priestly order. Of this sacred body the king, as we learn from the inscriptions, was the head; he was at the same time chief priest and general-in-chief of the army; while the temples were both royal palaces and walled castles of great strength. The power of the king must have been in part based on the opinion and religious feeling of the many; and however selfish may have been the priests, however they may have kept back knowledge from the people, or used the terrors of the next world as an engine for their power in this, yet such a government while more strong must also have been far more free than the government of the sword. Every temple had its own hereditary family of priests, who were at the same time magistrates of the city and the district, holding their power by the same right as the king held his. The union between church and state was complete. But the government must have been a good deal changed by Rameses II. and his father. After all Egypt was united under one sceptre, the power of the monarch was too great for the independence of the several cities. The palaces built by these kings were not temples; the foreign tributes and the produce of the gold mines were used to keep in pay a standing army; and by a standing army alone could Rameses have fought his battles so far from home as in Meroë, Asia Minor, and on the banks of the Euphrates. The military landholders were wholly unfitted for foreign warfare.

(46) Rameses II. was followed by three kings of less note, whose hieroglyphical names we may venture to Wilkinson, read PTHAHMEN-MIOTHPH (see Fig. 100), OIMENEPTHAH II. (see Fig. 101), and OSIRITA RAMERER (see Fig. 102). Of Pthahmen-Miothph we have a colossal statue


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »