Friday, December 28, 2012

A Couple of Interesting Links

     I just found a couple of links that I will pass along:

     The first is a link to a site that reports on the ongoing excavations of Catal Hoyuk in Turkey ( Catal Hoyuk is a Neolithic / Chalcolithic site in south-central Turkey that    
consists of numerous mud brick houses jammed in together. Some of the buildings have wall murals and others (religious shrines???) have several bull skulls mounted within them. Burials are sometimes found beneath the floor of the houses (an early example of a practice that is common in ancient middle eastern sites throughout ancient history).

     This site was originally excavated in the late 1950s by James Mellaart, who was later banned from excavating in Turkey on suspicion that he was involved in antiquities trafficking.

     The second link provides some information on the excavations at Hattusha ( being conducted by the German Archaeological Institute. This site is also located in Turkey.

     Hattusha was the capital of the Hittite Empire that vied for power with the Assyrians and Egyptians. The excavators have reconstructed about 65 meters of the original mud brick city walls and there is some information on the reconstruction, along with some good photos, on the website.

     There is also a page on this site devoted to the nearby religious center of Yazilikaya. Included is a good description of Yazilikaya and some photos of the site's relief carvings.

     Both of these sites are well worth checking out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt

     In the reference section of a local public library I just found an interesting three volume set of books that I was not aware existed. The book is the Oxford Dictionary of Ancient Egypt. The work is edited by Donald Redford and consists of hundreds of short articles about many different topics dealing with Ancient Egypt.

     The first article I looked at was "The Opening of the Mouth", which is in volume 2. The article was written by Ann Macy Roth and describes the Opening of the Mouth Ceremony from earliest times through the Late Period. It also provides a useful bibliography.

     As time allows, I will be visiting the library to look at more articles and see what other information is contained in this work. I will also post any new information on the Opening of the Mouth that I find in this article as a supplement to the posts I did on this topic earlier this year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Egypt and Persia (Cont.)

     Now that the Egyptians were part of the Persian Empire, they were expected to contribute to their conquerer's military. The Egyptians helped build the bridge of boats that Xerxes used to move troops across the Hellespont and contributed 200 triremes to the Persian fleet for the invasion of Greece.

     Given the remoteness of the Persian capital, it was only a matter of time until the Egyptians began trying to throw off the Persian yoke. Eventually Dynasty 29 arose, but fighting among the Egyptians seems to have resulted in most of the Kings of this Dynasty being deposed. Eventually this Dynasty is deposed and a new family (Dynasty 30) arises to take the throne.

     The Persians were not going to let the Egyptians slip away from their control, however. in 374 B. C. Artaxerxes II attempted to regain control of Egypt. He failed.  Artaxerxes III, tried three times to re-conquer Egypt during the reign of Nectanebo II (of Dynasty 30). By 341 B.C. the Persian Empire was once again in control of Egypt. This time their rule would last until it was ended by the invasion of Alexander the Great in 332.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Murder of Ramesses III

     There is news out today regarding the murder of the Twentieth Dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses III. He is one of the few kings that we know was assassinated and doctors examining his mummy have concluded that his throat was cut. Given how deep the cut was it would seem that Ramesses did not survive the assassination attempt long enough to see the assassins executed as many have believed.

     I am not sure how far to believe this story. One problem is that no one ever noticed the cut throat before, in spite of the fact that it was apparently a cut that went almost to the spine. The second problem is that there have been so many recent "revelations" about the royal mummies that have been later questioned by experts, that one tends to be suspicious.

     In any event, here is a link to the story:

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Persia and Egypt

     Ahmose II seems to have realized the menace that Cyrus the Great posed. Ahmose joined an alliance with Lydia and Babylonia against the Persian King, but the members of the alliance were too scattered to deter the Persians. Lydia fell first followed by Babylonia.

     Ahmose died before the Persians could invade Egypt, and Psamtek III had to deal with the impending invasion. The battle of Pelusium resulted in a complete victory for Cambyses (who succeeded Cyrus to the throne after Cyrus' death in combat) and the capture of Psamtek.

Frieze of Archers from Darius' Palace at Susa
     When Cambyses died in 522 B. C., the Egyptians revolted, but by 519 or 518 Darius, the new Persian King, succeeded in regaining control of Egypt. Darius built (or re-built) the temple of Amen in the Kharga Oasis (Shaw, Ian, ed. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, Oxford: University of Oxford Press, 2000, p. 383). Darius turned against the Greeks after subjugating the Egyptians, but was humiliated at the Battle of Marathon in what is surely one of the most important battles in the history of the world (how would the history of Europe been changed by a Persian victory???).

Photo Copyright (C) by John Freed 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Egypt's Dynasty 26

The Kings of Dynasty 26 were:

  • Nekau I
  • Psamtik I
  • Nekau II
  • Psamtek II
  • Apries
  • Ahmose II
  • Psamtek III

     Psamtik I re-united Egypt after the departure of the Assyrians. The Assyrians never returned to trouble him, as their empire was in the process of collapsing. Psamtik's even felt secure enough to invade the Levant where they finally captured the city of Ashdod after a long siege.

     But Egypt was to have trouble with more foreigners. Psamtik had used Greek mercenaries (among others) to re-unite Egypt. These Greeks seem to have become favorites of the Pharaoh, which left the native Egyptian / Libyan soldiers displeased.

     The Greek mercenaries, who seem to have lived in their own settlements in the Nile delta rapidly became a flashpoint for trouble. During the reign of Apries an anti-Greek backlash forced the Pharaoh from his throne (Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Egypt, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 373).

     Egypt rapidly recovered, and Ahmose II (Apries' successor) saw a prosperous Egypt enjoying a series of bumper crops, or so Herodotus tells us (Shaw, p. 374). The Greeks played a very active role in trading with Egypt, which also helped the Egyptian economy. Under Nekau II, the state tried to revive trade in the Red Sea area by attempting to build a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea (this project seems to have failed). Herodotus also claims that Nekau II sent an expedition to circumnavigate Africa, but this is not likely to be true (Shaw, p.376).

     Nekau II does seem to have sent an army to fight in what is now Iraq and this is by far the furthest extension of Egyptian military power northwards since the death of Tuthmose III. However, a defeat at Carchemish at the hands of the Babylonians pushed the Egyptians back to the Nile Delta.

     The Babylonians were never able to conquer Egypt, but they turned out to be the lesser of two problems. The bigger problem was Cyrus the Great.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Egypt's Largest Sarcophagus

Archaeologists are busy reconstructing the largest known sarcophagus ever found in Egypt. The sarcophagus belongs to the Nineteenth Dynasty Pharaoh Merneptah.

Merneptah's burial is unusual in that his body was surrounded by four stone sarcophagi (most of the Pharaoh's burials had one sarcophagus and several coffins). The sarcophagus in question was reduced to shattered pieces of stone in ancient times. Tomb robbers probably began the process, but breaking up the sarcophagus was likely completed by government officials who wanted to get at one of the inner sarcophagi so that it could be re-used in the burial of Psusennes I.

Here is a link to an article on this:

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Assurbanipal's Palace Reliefs

     Assurbanipal left many reliefs in his palace at Nineveh. These reliefs contain some justifiably famous portrayals of lion hunts which show the king in combat with both male and female lions, while his servants carry away the corpses of Assurbanipal's victims. But the relief that is of particular interest to me right now is the scene showing his campaign in Egypt.

     The scenes show the siege of an Egyptian city (Memphis?). In the upper part of the reliefs we see the city being stormed. One Assyrian soldier is attempting to set the city gate on fire (and holds his shield above his head as he does so to protect himself from missiles sent his way by the defenders above. Other soldiers are climbing ladders that have been set up against the city walls, while still more soldiers are engaged in trying to dig through the lower portion of the city's walls. A number of Egyptians / Nubians are shown falling from the walls with arrows in their bodies.

     At the bottom  of the city walls a number of Assyrian soldiers are shown leading of a group of Nubian prisoners. One soldier follows the prisoners while holding aloft the severed head of another Nubian.

For photos of this scene, look at Collins, Paul. Assyrian Palace Sculptures, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008, p. 108 and Rizza, Alfredo. The Assyrians and the Babylonians, Vercelli, Italy: White Star s. p. a., 2007, 99. 192 - 3.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Assurbanipal Defeats Egypt

Assurbanipal, King of Assyria, left a written record of his battles in Egypt. Here are some extracts (as translated in Van De Mieroop, Marc. A History of the Ancient Near East, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005, pp. 239 - 40) along with some comments:

"Tarqu (Taharqa) the godless came out in order to take Egypt... He sent an army to kill, destroy and plunder against the people of Assyria who were in Egypt, my servants, whom Esarhaddon King of Assyria, my father, had entrusted with kingship there".

Note that Assurbanipal's father Esarhaddon installed a number of "servants" as "kings". This shows that Egypt at this time was politically divided, a situation that Assyria exploited to their advantage.

Assurbanipal then tells us that Taharqa raised an army and gave battle at Memphis. Taharqa was defeated and "boarded a ship to save his life. He left his camp, fled alone and entered the city of Ni (Thebes)".

We know from this incription that Assurbanipal did not personally command his armies as he mentions messangers coming to him with news of the victory.

At this point the former Assyrian vassals, who had sided with Taharqa, decided to submit once more to Assurbanipal. One of these former vassals, named Nikku (probably Nekau I) was mentioned in particular as having been established as a "king" by Esarhaddon. "Nikku" had joined against Assurbanipal, but the Assyrian King showed him mercy and re-established him as a "king" in the Nile delta.

Nekau met his fate, probably at the hands of the Kushites, who would shortly return to Egypt under their new King, Tanutamun. But Necho's son, Psamtek I, would expell the Assyrians and re-unite Egypt.