What was Egypt’s relationships with Libya and the ‘Sea Peoples’ during the New Kingdom and did this contribute to the decline of Egypt’s empire and international standing. Introduction
The New-Kingdom, at its height, was a golden-age for Egypt; its authority reached over a huge geographic area (see Figure-1) from beyond the 4th-Cataract, to the Western-Oases, the banks of the Orontes, and the Euphrates (Manley, 1996, p.75-81). During a 500 year span (Shaw, 2000, p.481) Egypt re-emerged from a divided nation, where the Hyksos ruled Lower-Egypt and the Princes of Thebes ruled Upper-Egypt, into an empire with extensive economic power and who spoke from a position of military might (Spalinger, 2007, p.1). Egypt, by the 19th Dynasty, was struggling to preserve the empire which was followed by a slow-and-progressive decline and where the internal-control of Egypt was in disarray and the empire was lost (Goelet, 2001a, p.122).
We have a reasonable understanding of the New-Kingdom and its eastern neighbours from the expansive surviving written and inscribed texts, but there is still a significant lack of definitive information regarding their western neighbours, the Libyans. We are fortunate that bombastic temple inscriptions dating to the 19th Dynasty narrate outbursts of warfare with Libyan tribes and their allies (a confederation of the Sea-Peoples). Conversely the same texts present a one-sided ‘broad-sheet’ of propaganda and Higginbotham (2000, p.52) even theorizes that Libyan and Sea-Peoples invasions recorded in Medinet-Habu were fictitious copies of Merenptah’s mortuary temple.
However, Egypt and Libya’s un-neighbourly relationship dates to the Pre Dynastic Period and from inscriptions we can be certain that Egypt considered Libya an adversary and one of the nine-bows or ‘traditional enemies’ (Shaw, 2000, p.315). This persisted for tens of centuries and during the New-Kingdom their exchanges culminated in periods of warfare and where the Sea-Peoples emerged, initially as a confederate of Libya.
Was Egypt justifiably xenophobic..?Hyksos (HqAw-xAswt) impact on Egypt cannot be underestimated. Van-Seters (1966, p.189-190) firmly links the Hyksos to the Retjenu, a semi-nomadic people from Syria-Palestine, and Asiatic slaves brought to Egypt during the Middle-Kingdom. Ahmose founded the New-Kingdom after ‘inheriting’ the Hyksos war and, after ejecting them from Egypt, campaigning for three years to destroy their Southern-Palestine refuge at Sharuhen (Redford, 1993, p.129). This newly acquired territory provided a buffer from Levantine incursion and formed the beginnings of an empire but it simultaneously entwined Egypt into Near-Eastern politics and with its bellicose neighbours.
Ironically the New-Kingdom thrived from adopting Hyksos technology such as innovative weapons and agricultural techniques and also from trading-networks with the Near-East and Eastern-Mediterranean (Bietak, 2001, p.141-2).
Egypt traditionally balanced a need for immigration of labour and innovative-skills, with a valid concern that less desirable settlers might provoke unwelcome problems. A fine example of these problems (Breasted, 1906d, p.201) was recorded by Ramesses III where Libyan settlers plundered cities in the Western-Delta. I consider that the memory of the Hyksos explains the rational fear of uncontrolled incursions into the Delta from either direct-invasion or passive-settlement and Ramesses III’s action against Libyan settlers demonstrates that this fear was justified.
Who or what was Libya..?Elements of Libya’s people viewed Egypt as being so attractive that significant communities migrated into the Western-Delta, their progressive settlement gave Egypt cause-for-concern (Rodd, 1926, p.42).
Egyptians called the Western-Desert dSrt, the “Red Land” (Butzer, 2001, p.385). It is a vast featureless expanse of sand and stone-plateaus (Sampsell, 2003, p.146-7) with a hyper-arid climate. The costal-plains or littoral was partially protected from the Desert’s extremes but it couldn’t compare with Egypt’s land of milk-and-honey and life-giving inundation – which must have seemed an earthly utopia from their neighbour’s perspective (Kemp, 2006, p.42).
Libya (Gardiner, 1964, p.35) is a “misnomer – the tribe of Libu isn’t recorded until the reign of Merenptah when they headed the coalition from Western-Cyrenaica – Libya was ‘named’ by Greek authors and Rodd (1926, p.27) gives Herodotus the credit. In the Greek language Berber tribesmen (one distinct tribe were the Libu) were called Libyes and the geographic area that they occupied was referred to as Libya (Public, Internet-2). Much of our scant knowledge of Libya during the New-Kingdom is predominantly from the temple inscriptions of Sety-I, Merenptah, and Ramesses III (Kitchen, 1990, p.14) or writers such as Herodotus, Diodorus, or Pliny (probably copied from Ctesias (Bigwood, 1980, p.195)). Diodorus scathingly wrote that Libya didn’t have towns and that these nomads had neither rulers nor laws and lived by raiding and rapine. Bates (1970, p.212-3) added that most conflict involving Egypt and Libya were raids, counter-raids, and petty-revolts. The Tuareg people, of the Berber tribes, are nomadic pastoralists inhabiting parts of the Saharan interior of North-Africa. Todd (1926, p.30-41) harshly judged them as mendacious and masters of surprise tactics – I prefer to view them more sympathetically as being adapted for survival in a harsh environment. Todd identified them as the Tjehenu’s forerunners – I feel that the Tuareg provide a good parallel to the peoples in conflict with Egypt; strongly nomadic, independent, and effective in using raiding when opportunity presented.
Unlike the Levant and Nubia, there is scant evidence of economic activity between Libya and Egypt – excepting barter items such as specialized cattle (Bates (1970, p.101) also adds slaves) and exotica including oils and ostrich eggs/feathers (such as those used on the fan buried with Tutankhamun (Desroches-Nonlecourt, 1963, p.92)). Bates (1970, p.95-106) says that conventional records are of Egyptian Kings ‘confiscating’ cattle from camps, or of Libyans offering tribute; for-example from Amarna (Davies, 2004, plate.XXIX, see Figure-7) and from Horemheb’s unused tomb at Saqqara (Martin, 1993, p.77), see Figure-8) and that Libyan trade (equitable-exchange) would have predominantly been with Nubia. Texts from Ramesses III’s mortuary-temple at Medinet Habu refer to the towns of the Meshwesh and the town of the Libu’s leader Meryey (Edgerton/Wilson, 1936, p.80-83) so we can be confident that permanent settlements did exist. The region west-of-the-Nile hasn’t revealed any pre-Greek habitations, or even their toponyms, which presents a complete blank in our knowledge of the society with in this region (Kraeling, 1960, p.108).
From the Pre Dynastic Period, when Egypt’s national identity was formed, there were references to conflict with Libya on ceremonial items such as the ‘Libyan Palette’. The identification of the vanquished has relied on their wearing penis-sheaths (Ucko, 1969, p.36; Wilkinson, 2003, p.162) which formed part of the convention for portraying Libyans – as Schäfer (2002, p.34 ) understates “in art Egyptians were not violent innovators”. We also have explicit naming of the Libyans; Schäfer (p.150-1) translated the Narmer Seal (see Figure-2) as a depiction of the King beating Libyans and saying “Narmer … has defeated the Libyans and taken them prisoner”. The enemies’ name is written phonically under the fish’s tail as Tjehenu (THnw) and Wilkinson (2003, p.174) added that references to conflicts continued throughout the Early Dynastic Period. Libyan and Egyptian peoples would have been culturally similar during Egypt’s formation (Baines/Málek, 1980, p.19) and possibly Narmer’s unification of Egypt was the point-in-time where they became distinct peoples.
The tomb of Harkhuf a noble ‘caravan-conductor’ during the reign of Pepy II, narrates that during a trading-journey to Yam he arrived to find that its leader had gone to smite the Libyan ruler (Baines/Málek, 1980, p.19). This suggests that Libya wasn’t constrained to the west-east littoral but extended significantly southward; I suggest that it paralleled the Nile along the north-south trade-routes and the eastern edge was a ‘fuzzy line’ bordering the semi-circle of Oases (see Figure-3) – Snape (2003, p.95-6) proposes that it stretched as far as Lower Nubia and these ‘neighbours’ were sufficient allied to consider co-ordinated attacks against Egypt. References to Libyans persist throughout Egypt’s history such as within the First Intermediate Period Admonitions of Ipuwer where it was written “is it Libyan? Then we will turn them back” (Lichtheim, 1975, p.161) – interestingly this implies that migrations/incursions were already being resisted.
Unlike other regions that Egypt subdued a permanent garrison or the ‘Governors Residency’ doesn’t seem to occur in Libya – Higginbotham (2000, p.2) says that provinces were regulated by overseers of northern lands (imy-rA xast mHtt), especially trade and tributes (Tubb, 2006, p.82-4). This lack of direct control might reflect the nomadic nature of the peoples or a lack of economic resources worthy of ‘harvesting’.
There are no specific references to conflicts with Libya during the 18th Dynasty (Kitchen, 1980, p.14) although Breasted (1906b, p.40) wrote that Ahmose-Pen-Nekhbet’s funerary biography included campaigning in Libya for Amenhotep-I (Kitchen (1990, p.14) cautions that this is probably within Libya but it isn’t totally certain). During Ramesses III’s reign the Libyan government was led by a “Great Chief of the Meshwesh” (Bates, 1970, p.101), a title that 22nd Dynasty rulers proudly retained. I think that ‘tribal-leader’ may be a more apt description than ‘government’ and their leadership would conventionally have been passed from along family-lines.
Libya was still not a metal-culture by the time Xerxes’ Persian army was attacked by tribesmen with fire-hardened javelins (Bates, p.143-4). The peoples who remained within Libya didn’t develop as a credible threat to Egypt. It was the Libyans who settled within Egypt, fully integrating into Egyptian society, who ultimately gained from Egypt’s progressive decay. They, after many generations, eventually held influential roles within the state’s administration and ultimately ascended the throne of kmt, the ‘Black Land’. Sheshonq-I (Dodson, 2001, p.390) – whose distant forbearers originated from Libya – eclipsed the traditional rulers of Egypt and initiated the 22th Dynasty but the beginning of their ‘success-story’ was firmly rooted within the New-Kingdom.
Who or what were the Sea-Peoples..?Sea-Peoples are one of history’s more enigmatic groups. Their original culture and origin are unknown but their impact was felt around the entire Mediterranean. Their arrival on the international-scene threatened Egypt’s eastern interests and eventually necessitated a defensive and reactive posture (Higginbotham, 2000, p.52).
Ironically the ‘Sea-Peoples’ have been donated to us by more contemporary history – Dothan/Dothan (1992, p.25-8) explained that Vicomte Emanuel DeRouge (Champollion’s successor to the chair of Egyptian Archaeology at the Collége de France) wrote an article within Revue Archéologique (1867) titled “Attacks Directed Against Egypt by the Peoples of the Mediterranean”. His students, Maspero and Chabas, worked to identify Egypt’s attackers and Maspero coined the phrase “Les Peuples de la Mer”. This collection of peoples, gathered into the ‘Sea-Peoples’, captured the imaginations of western-academics (particularly those attempting to juxtapose Biblical and Egyptian chronologies) and mental images developed of pirates raiding Egyptian shores while their armies (and families) travelled overland to rape Egypt’s wealth. The reality could be more mundane with the migration of displaced peoples battling, and selling their military-skills, to establish a home-land.
The Sea-Peoples were a coalition of diverse peoples probably with equally diverse cultures (Morris, Internet-1); although there is some agreement that their movement was initiated by the collapse of the Mycenaean and Hittite Empires, c.1200-BC (Robbins, 2001, p.108), but there is no clear consensus on where they originated from (there are many hypotheses such as Philistine, Aegean, Trojan, Mycenaean, Anatolian, or Northern-Europe origins). There was opinion that the Sea-Peoples caused the fall of the Mycenaean or Hittite Empires (Cline/O’Connor, 2003, p.107) and Medinet Habu does record “… foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands … no land could stand before their arms, from Hatti, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa, and Alashiya”. However evidence only records the sacking of city/states such as Enkomi and Ugarit (Redford, 1993, p.254); in Ugarit (c.1200-BC) Sea-Peoples were reported to be attacking (Edwards, et-al, 1975, p.130-146) and some of the final poignant words before they vanished from history were “Our city is destroyed” (Astour, 1965, p.258).
I consider it unlikely that Sea-Peoples caused the fall of the Mycenaean or Hittite Empires but they certainly contributed to it (MacQueen, 2001, p.51). Merenptah, writing of the Libyan attack in Year-5, reported that he “caused to take grain in ships to keep alive that land of Kheta [Hittites]” (Wainwright, 1960, p.24) which would have honoured the treaty agreed by Ramesses II. So, adopting the speculation raised by Cline/O’Connor (2003, p.117), we can deduce that environmental reasons caused their plight (earthquake, internal rebellions, drought and famine) and the Sea-Peoples movement/migration was more likely to be caused by these events than the cause of the Empire’s collapse.
We may never know the Sea-Peoples’ origin; however I judge that the Levant and Syria are their probable homelands because they had strong reasons to dislike Egypt, their proven residence at Dor (although this could have post-dated the Eastern invasion), and importantly Breasted (1906d, p.201) noted that Ramesses III’s said of their Year-8 attack “I extended all the boundaries of Egypt; I overthrew those who invaded them from their lands” – which suggests that Egypt and at least some Sea-Peoples shared a common boundary.
Bronze (Cowen, Internet-4) named the Age that was one of the most innovative periods in history and which spanned the New-Kingdom. Bronze was the most important non-Ferris metal in ancient times (Bahn/Renfrew, 2004, p.346, 380-1) and was typically alloyed from copper with smaller quantities of tin. For-example, Spencer (2007, p.43) notes the Gayer-Anderson cat is an amalgam of 84.7% Copper, 13% Tin, 2.1% Arsenic, and 0.2% lead. For larger-scale manufacturer to be possible, such as on Alašiya (Cyprus), required a supply of materials, craftsmen, fuel, transportation, demand for the finished goods, and trading networks. Copper was more plentiful than Tin which made it a strategic material. Each nation within the region demanded Bronze for a wide range of uses, but none seem to have easy access to all of the required components – trade was essential which depended on mutual-respect, co-operation, and international-stability. A perfect example, within a time-capsule, is the Shipwreck at Uluburun, dating to c.1300-BC, whose cargo included many precious objects but mostly comprised raw materials with approximately 10 tons of copper (lead-isotope ratios indicate it came from Apliki on Cyprus) in the form of ingots, scrap metal and tools. Also on board were one ton of tin ingots.
More than 40 ancient tin mines (such as at Göltepe) have been discovered in the Taurus Mountains in southern Anatolia (north of Cyprus) (Cowen, Internet-4). This region didn’t contain sufficient copper so a trade-route was necessary to unite these materials. Sargon of Akkad (c.2350-BC) invaded Anatolia establishing a short-lived empire – he bragged that a single caravan carried 12 tonnes of tin, enough to manufacturer 125 tonnes of bronze. Tin was also brought into Anatolia by Assyrian merchants – a major trade is recorded in Assyrian letters from c.1950-1850-BC where tin shipments were sufficient to manufacturer 10¬00 tonnes of bronze annually.
Copper smelting had an insatiable demand for wood, quantities that couldn’t be sustained and the deforestation of the eastern Mediterranean began c.1200-BC (Cowen, Internet-4). For-example; modern Cyprus is unlike 5000 years ago and smelting is heavily to blame – other effects are soil run-off and erosion leading to the silting of ports (such as Enkomi). Copper mining was extensive in the Late Bronze-Age and there were significant sites in southern Sinai (which had more than 700 sites alone) and in southern Levant. Ingots each weighed c.30+kg and were poured into moulds that resemble Oxhides (see Figure-5).
Oxhide ingots were sufficient importantly to be included in Egyptian tomb scenes (Bass-et-al, 1967, p.63) and Moran (1992, p.106-110) translated Amarna letters reporting huge exchanges of Copper from Cyprus-to-Egypt – clearly Egypt’s own insatiable demand (statues, weapons, tools, utensils, temple decorations, etc.) required supplementing.
The spatial distribution of the Copper trade was extensive – extending throughout the region and beyond. With periods of disturbance (such as wars, famines, or territorial-changes) interrupted the flow of materials and entire trade-network was impacted; for-example, from the Amarna Letters (Moran, 1992, p.107) we have evidence of Cyprus delaying sending a Copper greeting-gift because Nergal (thought to be a form of pestilence) had slain all of the copper-workers. Bronze was the single most important non-luxury trade-good and it helped to build-and-sustain international-relations throughout the region; when Egypt’s economy and influence wasn’t sufficient to trade, buy, or receive tributes of Bronze it placed the economy into a crisis – something that can be mapped through the rise-and-fall of the New-Kingdom and demonstrated at the 20th Dynasty’s close when Ramesses XI sent a crocodile and a monkey to Assur bel Kala (King of Assyria) as diplomatic gifts (Grandet, 2001, p.542). We might ponder whether Assur viewed this as an appropriate gift or a laughable demonstration of Egypt’s economic frailty and weakness.
Influence of Amen-Re and the gods
The New-Kingdom cannot be appreciated without first considering the role of Amun-Re.
The Theban princes emerged victorious from their conflict with the Hyksos and they were hugely grateful for this god-given success (David, 1998, p.120-1). They had worshiped Amun since the 12th Dynasty when he replaced Montu as state-god; Amun’s hand was clearly recognized and appreciated in the unification of Egypt. Through syncretism the divinity Amen-Re emerged having absorbed the characteristics of an omnipotent solar-god. Amun-Re initially played the role of a god-of-war but this evolved into a creator-god as the empire became more extensive and a more universal-god was expedient. The cosmology centered on Thebes and it was here that Amenhotep-I built the nation’s secular and religious capital.
Interestingly Egypt’s neighbours were included within their dogma. Ramesses IV’s tomb within the Valley of the Kings is inscribed with The Book of the Gates (Horning (1999, p.55-59) considers it be a New-Kingdom work) which describes the nocturnal journey of the sun and the 5th hour lists the four-races of humankind as Egyptians, Asiatics, Nubians, and Libyans (Wilkinson, 2003, p.181). David (1998, p.144) even considers that Libyans contributed to Egypt’s early culture and that some of the early deities, such as Neith and Ash, had Libyan origins.
Temples dedicated to Amen-Re spread through-out Egypt, along with their priesthood – who eventually acquired more-and-more religious power along with wide political and economic influence. As Egypt’s military machine successfully vanquished its foes, so returned to Egypt the spoils-of-war. A major recipient of wealth, land, and captured-peoples was Amen-Re and other god’s temples, This manifested in temples becoming major economic entities as each ruler strived to out-present riches to the gods and therefore justify his earthly rule and eternity. For-example, (Sandars, 1985, p.133) Ramesses III presented Shasu prisoners from the First Libyan War “… to the gods as slaves in their houses”. Over time the priesthood’s wealth and power presented a challenge to the King whose selection was increasingly dependent on the priesthood’s support. David (1998, p.122-3) stresses that the policy of religious influence was not in any way strategic for the empire – being individual to each ruler – and it was a disastrous policy and clearly un-supportable. I concur with David (p.171) that we are correct to believe that Amenhotep-III’s attempt to constrain the cult’s power directly resulted in Akhenaten’s short-lived rejection of polytheism and adoption of monotheism. After Aten was discarded the influence of Amen-Re became total; critically the subsequent ruler were Amen-Re’s servants and by the end of the 20th Dynasty the power of the priesthood led to the effective division of Egypt with the King, or his representatives, ruling Lower-Egypt and the hereditary High-Priests ruling Upper-Egypt.
New Kingdom – Birth of an EmpireMurnane (2001, p.519-520) characterizes the New-Kingdom as a period where Empire is embedded within the state’s policies. Thutmose-I’s Egypt held territory beyond the 4th-Cataract; the Priesthood also held extensive landholdings in the occupied territory. Libya required little intervention except to support the trade-network that ran along the littoral into Egypt, possible via Zawiyet Umm el-Rasham, with Minoan traders (early Copper producers (Day/Doonan, 2007, p.84)) and, after their collapse, Mycenaean traders (Schofield, 2007, p.111-2).
The Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni (Murnane, 2001, p.521-2) was an established super-power and they vied with Egypt for control of the Levant. Egyptian state-craft used a military-force of a standing-army (Faulkner, 1953, p.41) to assert their dominance and a number of city-states came under Egypt’s influence – military response for dominance in the Levant was characteristic of this period’s ‘diplomacy’. Thutmose sent armies into the Levant year-after-year, succeeded in binding vassal states into a protective buffer which shielded the empire from Mitanni encroachment – his successor achieved a negotiated peace. By the rule of Amenhotep-III Egypt’s empire was at its height and a lasses-faire stance towards vassals allowed wealth to flow into the state-coffers. He was able to support a huge building program using the resources from suppliant vassals’ tributes and an international trade network which extended throughout the Mediterranean, Aegean and Africa. Amenhotep’s harem was full of representatives from the royal-families of the near-east. Conflict was replaced with trade; this relaxed policy ultimately proved costly when less settled times arrived.
I view Akhenaten’s reign as being the fulcrum of Egypt’s international standing; not because of a lingering memory of Aten but because the catalyst of changing fortunes of the Mitanni, compounded with Akhenaten’s supposed disinterest in secular matters caused the Egyptian Empire to be perceived as weak. The Hittites, a new and powerful threat, had emerged from Anatolia and quickly overcame the Mitanni (Murnane, 2001, p.522). Egypt’s vassals, whose endless bickering and posturing are recorded within the Amarna letters, were enticed by the Hittites. Ugarit (Mediterranean trading state) and Kadesh (controlling the Orontes Valley trade-route) defected, which infected other previously-loyal but strongly independent states.
New-Kingdom, in my opinion, at end of Amenhotep-III’s reign had already passed the zenith of its ‘brightest’ period. The impact of Libyan and the Sea-Peoples had been relatively minimal on Egypt’s empire but a period of more troubled times had arrived and Egypt would fail to react to change in an effective way.
New Kingdom – Resisting the inevitable
Sety I could only temporarily recover Kadesh and a policy of expensive military control of the region was necessary. Ramesses II, whose martial capability is questioned, battled but didn’t bring Kadesh back under Egyptian control – however an alliance between Egypt and the Hittites was the eventual result (recorded on the walls of Karnak and in copies from the Hittite archive at Bogazkoy (Goelet, 2001b, p.121)).
Merenptah was already experienced but elderly leader who inherited his father’s challenges. Rebellion in Nubia was followed by a Libya invasion. Egypt must have struggled to support prolonged periods of conflict, especially on two distant fronts. With direct neighbours offering such determined conflict it must have been problematic to effectively defend the more distant empire. Ramesses II extended a series of 12th Dynasty fortresses (Shawn, 2000, p.318) from the Western-Delta stretching along the littoral to Mersa Ma-truh as a measure of control and protection along the strategically important coastal route into Egypt (Leahy, 2001a, p.292). The fortresses weren’t able to prevent the Libyan and Sea-Peoples invasion but Egypt (according to their own annuals) totally crushed their attackers – however the passive invasion and the desire to live in the-land-of-plenty continued unchecked.
Although Merenptah’s successors successfully overcame a usurper, physical challenges, and other threats they still failed to reestablish an effective lineage and their Kingship of the Dynasty was coming to an inglorious end with civil war and Sethnakht, a pretender, assuming the thrown with the assistance of Asiatic mercenaries.
Murnane (2001, p.523) suggests, these great empires depended on each-other to maintain the fragile regional stability and as long as the equilibrium was maintained trade conditions were opportune and nations grew richer. Conversely (Sandars, 1985, p.29) it’s failure had repercussions throughout the entire region and Freeman (1999, p.38) explained that when Near-East economic networks were severed a 300-year ‘Dark Age’ descended. It was clear that Egypt’s influence had diminished; whether this was viewed as ‘an opportunity’ by other nations isn’t known but a period of conflict had now firmly arrived – and this was on Egypt’s ‘door-step’.
New Kingdom – Decay
Egypt recorded that Merenptah and Ramesses III were attacked by Libya and a coalition of Sea-Peoples from the west. As each wave of Libyans was defeated so a further wave followed, but by peoples thought to originate from further west. O’Connor (1990, p.28) explained these successions of aggression demonstrates that these events were not a casual phenomena. We can be confident that the Sea-Peoples sailed to Libya (Cline/O’Connor, 2003, p.117) and at least some their peoples earned Maspero’s naming. There is an interesting reference (Breasted, 1906c, p.244) to “bringing to an end the Pedetishew … whom I caused to take grain in ships, to keep alive that land of Kheta [Hittites]”; Robbins (2001, p.163) wonders whether this indicates that Sea-Peoples were Hittites but I prefer to interpret that Merenptah hired Shipping operated by Sea-Peoples – who more likely resided within the geographically adjacent Levant.
Ramesses III was, in my opinion, the last great warrior-king of Egypt – he was certainly prolific with ten known sons (Vinson, 2001, p.118-9), at least three subsequently become King. His mortuary-temple at Medinet Habu, with the usual version of honesty, is one of the major extant sources of information regarding this period. From early in his reign was embattled with very-real challenges from outside of Egypt; from Nubia, from two significant Libyan invasions (Libu Year-5, Meshwesh Year-11), and a major assault from the east by Sea-Peoples (Year-8).
The Sea-Peoples’ withdrawal ended in Western-Palestine where they evolved into the Philistines (Grandet, 2001, p.538). Egypt, judging from inscriptions on Medinet Habu, respected the Sea-Peoples more than the Libyans (Cline/O’Connor, p.130-131). The Sea-Peoples were depicted as Lions (a highly respected beast), foreign adversaries in the Levant were depicted as Wild Bulls (less than Lions but held with respect), but Libyans were depicted as lowly Gazelles or Wild Asses..! Stern (1990, p.27-28) wrote of one major Sea-Peoples enclave at Dor – Stratum XII was a Tjeker city (a tribe of Sea-Peoples) who Ramesses III optimistically claims to have annihilated the Tjeker while Ugarit texts name them as sea marauders who lived on ships. Their existence is confirmed within the “Onomasticon of Amenope” and the “Report of Wenamun” (Lichtheim, 1996, p.224) dated to the reign of Ramesses XI when Egyptian influence had been lost. It isn’t known whether the Tjeker held the city prior to the Sea-Peoples’ invasion, whether Ramesses II settled them there (Raban, 1987, p.120), or whether this was the end of their withdrawal. I offer an alternative theory; that the Egyptian portrayal (their texts simply do not record failure) could actually a diplomatic camouflage of Egypt’s eviction by the Sea-Peoples from the territories that Sea-Peoples ‘owned’ or intended to settle in! There has been confusion about the meaning of Ramesses III’s phrase “the flame was prepared before them” (Nibbi, 1975, p.65) and in modern terms this may have been the retiring Egyptian forces using a scorched-earth policy to deny local resources to the advancing Sea-Peoples – although I must acknowledge that ‘the flame’ could equally imply Montu who’s “flame consumes the Nine Bows” (Breasted, 1906d, p.27).
Although the temple-walls are full of Ramesses’ success, the Sea-Peoples’ emergence as Egypt’s new neighbour was to present an unexpected issue. As they merged into the Philistine nation they acted as an effective barrier to the Via Maris trade-route through the Levant and beyond. Inevitably the critical international-trade would have been restricted and Egypt must have slowly lost access to the all-important Jezreel, Orontes and Beka’a Valleys.
In Year-29 the picture was different; the temples are ‘full’ with significant portions of state income but this doesn’t indicate an equally full-belly for the people. The community of Deir el-Medina workers was starving; their rations, brought regularly to them from the temples granaries, were repeatedly interrupted. They took the unprecedented step of striking four times (Vinson, 2001, p.119) and taking their petition to the Mayor-of-Thebes. These extraordinary incidents suggests a number of possibilities such as an extensive break-down of the economy, inappropriate division of resources between religious and secular, shortage caused by Ramesses III’s Sed-Festival, famine, flood, theft and corruption, climatic issues (such as low inundations or pestilence), or poor administration. Opinions are typically divided, for-example Vinson (p.118-9) identifies the Sed-Festival as primary cause but Murnane (2001, p.523), more realistically in my opinion, identifies the worsening economic situation. Grain, by the end of the Dynasty, was eventually four times its original cost – Murnane added the wide-spread corruption and theft was a significant factor using the Turin Indictment Papy-rus (during Ramesses IV and V’s reigns) and royal robbery tombs (during Ramesses IX and XI’s reigns) as documented examples. The micro-economic cause of the Deir el-Medina worker’s strike was a shortage of grain; for this community under royal-patronage to strike must have indicated a grass-roots discontentment. Grain supply described by Janssen (2004, p.28-9) was a complex matter involving the collection, processing, transportation, storage, and sharing of grain for geographically separated regions – we may use this as a socio-economic barometer of the wider economy – which is demonstrated using the Harris Papyrus (Breasted, 1906d, p.96-7) which records that during Ramesses III’s reign there were 107,615 people, including 169 towns and 88 ships, within the temple economy – a massive undertaking heavily dependent on efficient management to balance supply-and-demand through feast-and-famine.
Ramesses III’s reign closed with the ‘Harem Conspiracy’. The secondary Queen Tiye and high-officials staged a coup d’état (Vinson, 2001, p.9)) to place her son onto the thrown. Surprisingly they employed magic-wax figurines to enfeeble the King’s limbs (Breasted, 1906d, p.210-6) and the Harris Papyrus records that the Ramesses was injured – we might speculate if the King’s failing health was blamed on a possible rival to Ramesses IV which served as a convenient way of removing that threat. The conspirators included a Lycian, Syrian, and a Libyan called Yenini who was a butler – he was found guilty of failing to report the crime and paid with his life. From the ethnic-mix Harem employees we can picture the cosmopolitan mix within Egypt and interestingly Grandet (2001, p.539) offers that internal conflicts raged more or less permanently behind the scene. As with the worker’s strike we’re fortunate to have records dating to this pivotal-time and these suggest a serious break-down in the King’s authority. From the end of Ramesses III’s rule there was a progressive decline in centralized authority and international-relations so that Egypt became “a second-rate, self-centered, impoverished country, racked with internal troubles” (Grandet, 2001, p.539).
New Kingdom – the End
History is a harsh judge and the legacy of rulers from Ramesses IV to X hardly rates mention except for being ‘the-last’; for-example Ramesses VI is the last ruler whose presence is recorded in Southern-Levant (Bloch-Smith/Alpert-Nakhai, 1999, p.63). Figure-6 demonstrates that the male-line was fragile and a number of Ramesses III’s elderly sons assumed the thrown for short periods. This was a sad close to a once ‘golden’ Dynasty.
Ramesses XI’s rule encapsulates the break-down of Egypt’s authority and the failure to enforce law-and-order. A fine example is described by Grandet (2001, p.539) where it was discovered that priests and temple employees from Medinet Habu had stripped the Ramesseum’s of gold decorations. Ramesses III styled his kingship on Ramesses II’s but by the end of the Dynasty the Ramesseum had been abandoned because of bands of raiding Libyans. Panehsy governed Upper-Egypt under martial law and eventually incited a rebellion and fought his way northwards before being defeated and retiring to Nubia. The figure-head King’s reaction was to declare a Renaissance or “repeating of births”. One possibly unanticipated consequence was that Nubia was under Panehsy’ control and therefore the supply of gold, which was vitally important to Egypt’s economy and international commercial standing (Manley, 1996, p.100), was halted and never regained.
The New-Kingdom, in contrast to its bright beginning, ended ingloriously.
The decline of the New-Kingdom was the result of a complex interaction of internal and external causes. The primary reasons were:
- The excessive influence of the cult of Amun-Re and the a unsustainable necessity for rulers to present spoils to the temples was a burden on the economy, as was the level of state control vested within the priesthood.
- Repeated changes of line of descent among Ramesses III’s successors resulted in kings being unprepared for the role and inhibiting the emergence of a strong political leadership. The priesthood and nobility showed more continuity which gave rise to increasing divisions between the King and local ‘rulers’.
- Bands of Libyans increasingly raided deep within Egypt. The administration failed to cope with the crisis resulting in a break-down in law-and-order and a lack of confidence in the traditional institutions.
- Periods of conflict, such as the invasions by the Libyans and the Sea-Peoples, drained the Egyptian empire of resources and interrupted its economic stability.
- The Mediterranean region slipped into a ‘dark age’ where the major empires collapsed within a contiguous time-period. Ironically empires were fragile and depended on each-other to maintain regional stability.
- Egypt lost control of its external territories. In the East, the settlement of the Sea-Peoples/Philistines on the Levantine coast resulted in the peoples becoming a cohesive entity with no loyalty to Egypt. Ramesses XI’s former governor established an independent Nubia and blocked Egypt’s access to gold mines and halted this critical economic revenue-stream and which made Egypt’s international-commercial status suffer. With trade-routes to the east, west, north and south blocked Egypt’s became increasing isolation on the international-front, a shadow of its former-self and susceptible to internal-divisions, coup d’état, or invasion.
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|Wainwright, G A||(1939)||Some Sea-Peoples and Others in the Hittite Archives||The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 148-153|
|Wainwright, G A||(1959)||Some Early Philistine History||Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 9, Fasc. 1, pp. 73-84|
|Wainwright, G A||(1960)||Meneptah’s Aid to the Hittites||The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 46, pp. 24-28|
|Wainwright, G A||(1961a)||The Earliest Use of the Mano Cornuta; Some Early Philistine History||Folklore, Vol. 72, No. 3, pp. 492-495.|
|Wainwright, G A||(1961b)||Some Sea-Peoples||The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 47, pp. 71-90|
|Wainwright, G A||(1962)||The Meshwesh||The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 48, pp. 89-99|
|Waldbaum, Jane||(1966)||Philistine Tombs at Tell Fara and Their Aegean Prototypes||American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 70, No. 4, pp. 331-340|
|Ward, William||(1963)||Egypt and the East Mediterranean from Predynastic Times to the End of the Old Kingdom||Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 6, No. 1, (May), pp. 1-57|
|Wente, Edward||(1963)||Shekelesh or Shasu?||Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 22, No. 3, pp. 167-172|
|Wilkinson, Charles||(1979)||Egyptian Wall Paintings: The Metropolitan Museum’s Collection of Facsimiles
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|Wilkinson, Toby||(2003)||Early Dynastic Egypt||London: Routledge|
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Note 1: Uvo Hoelscher/ Hölscher is spelt differently in the 1929 publication than in the 1931 and 1951 publications