Richard Lepsius.

Letters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai online

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cording to the presentation of them by Africanus in a con-
tinuous line, the first year of Menes coincided very nearly
with tlie proleptically calculated year of commencement of an
Egyptian Sothis period. He treated the questions under
consideration with all the learning and ingenious criticism
which is peculiar to this master in archaeological investiga-


tion, pointing out that the slight deviation between the result
which had been arrived at, and the one expected, might be
removed by very simple means ; and he came to the conclu-
sion, that this agreement was intentionally brought about by
the Egyptian annalists, consequently that the Manethonic
computation of time was cyclically invented or adapted,
not handed down by history. The view that you maintain,
which differs very much from this, you founded especially
upon the comparison of the Eratosthenic lists with the Ma-
nethonic Dynasties of the Old Monarchy ; you thus deter-
mined the continuous Monarchical Dynasties, Avhose periods
you calculated by the numbers of Eratosthenes, you espe-
cially recognised no cyclical element in the Manethonic
chronology, and hence believed "the accounts of Manetho
and Eratosthenes to be a historical tradition, in part the re-
sult of learned Alexandrian investigations.

My view corresponds with yours in all essential points.
That several of the Dynasties were contemporaneous, ap-
pears to me most decidedly attested ; and I have been able
to obtain a direct, and, as I believe, a genuine Manethonic
proof of it. On the other hand, from the beginning I have
never been able to lay so much stress upon the list of
Eratosthenes, especially upon its individual names and
numbers, opposed to the IManethonic statement, as appeared
to you justifiable, owing to the important information you
obtained from it concerning the Monarchical Dynasties.
This is the principal reason why we still differ so much in
our determination of the duration of the Old Monarchy
down to the entrance of the Hyksos. A cyclical treatment
of the Egyptian chronology, which you neither recognised
in 4;he History of the Grods, nor in the History of Man,
which Bockh, on the other hand, believes he finds in both
parts, appears to me, indeed, capable of being demonstrated,
but only in the mythical history, before Menes. The result
of this has been a confirmation of the sum total of the
Manethonic History of Man, which is also considered
genuine by you, and upon which I imagine I may venture
to place the greatest weight.



On the previous Conditions necessary for the Origin of a Chronology
among the Egyptians, and the Possibility of its Restoration.


Favourable Conditions Ibr an early Egyptian History and

Chronology 3G8— 396

External Circumstances in favour of an Historical Development . 368 — 374
Influence of the Local Character and Climate upon the Pre-
servation of the ilonuments 368 — 371

Abundance of Building Stone 371

Bricks. Papyrus used as a Writing Material .... 372

Intellectual Basis and Proofs of Historical Activity . . . 374 — 396
National Historical Sense of the Egyptians .... 374 — 380
Earlier and more extended Habit of Writing .... 377 — 380

Books. Libraries 380

Fame of Egyptian Wisdom and Learning among the Greeks . 382

Sacred Writings of the Egyptians 387

Kemains of Historical Literature 392

Retrospective View 397—400


Criticism upon the Authorities.

The Hebrew Tradition 401—493

Uncertainty of the Hebrew Numbers . . . c . .401

The Exodus according to Manetho 404

The Exodus according to Hecataeus and Diodorus . . . 408
The Exodus of the Lepers the same as that of the Israelites . 411
The Pharaoh of the Exodus according to Manetho . . . 417
The Pharaoh of the Exodus according to Ptolemy Mendesius,

Apion Josephus 420

The Pharaoh of the Exodus according to Eusebius . . . 422
The Pharaoh of the Exodus accordmg to Lysimachus . . 423
Intimations concerning the Time of the Exodus in the Old Testa-
ment 424



The Situation of Abaris 425

The Situation of Heroonpolis 434

The Situation of Ramses 437

The Town of Eamses built by Ramses- jMiamun (Ramses II.) . 438
Canal Connection between the Nile and the Red Sea . . 439
The Towns Pithom and Ramses, on the Canal of Ramses II.,

built in the Reign of Ramses II 446

The Exodus of the Israelites later than Ramses II. . . 449
The Exodus in the year b.c. 1314 according to the Rabbinical Chro-
nology 450

The Date of the Exodus according to the .Jewish Generations . 457
The Date of the Exodus according to the Book of Judges , . 470
The Period from Jacob and .Joseph to Moses .... 475 — 485
The Pharaoh of Joseph in Herodotus and Diodorus . . . 480

The Period from Abraham to Moses 485—492

Joseph placed during the Reign of Aphophis 487

End of Hebrew Tradition 492

The genuine Manethonic Numbers 494

Retrospective View 496

Tables of Egyptian Dynasties 499



While the beginnings of Greek and Eoman history, by
the strict investigations of modern criticism, have lost more
and more of their historical character, and while cautious
inquirers consider it impossible to obtain a fixed date for
separate events, earlier than the seventh and eighth centuries
before Christ, the history of Egypt treats of strictly historical
facts, and its chronology contains exact numbers of years,
months, and days in the third and fourth millennium previous
to our era. This appears such a palpable contradiction, that
it is not alone worth while on account of the larger circle of
readers who are more out of the scope of these investigations,
but it must also be important to the inquirers in this field,
to answer for themselves the preliminary question, how it
is possible to prosecute the history of Egypt so much far-
ther back than the history of the nations of the West and
East, without denying the principles of that criticism which
has pointed out limits to the history of classical antiquity,
and which must justly be considered the most valuable trea-
sure of modem science ?

In order to answer this question, we must first call to
mind that it has now become a principle, derived from ex-
perience, that the real history of a nation, in the strictest
sense of the word, never recedes much farther back than its
oldest contemporaneous authorities^ and this once expressed,
becomes, from its intrinsic necessity, self-evident. This
principle applies both to us — since our certain conclusions in
historical investigations do not extend much farther back —


and also to the nations tbemselves ; for tliey only obtain his-
torical consciousness and historical experience when they
he,'^in to produce monuments, especially written monuments,
to bear witness to posterity of what is occurring. Monu-
ments form the dial-plate of history ; until they exist, the
present alone belongs to a nation, not the past — it exists
without a history. If a nation loses its monuments, either
through its own fault or through circumstances, it will be
unable to preserve its history, which becomes confused and
traditionary, and in place of the purely historical account
which it has lost, it obtains, at the best, another principle of
internal order ; a poetic-mythological, as with the Greeks ; a
philosophic-mythological, as with the Indians ; or a religious
one, as with the Israelites ; but it always loses its original
value as a reproduction of a series of real facts.

Now if we start from this axiom, that the commencement
of everv true history and chronolog}', as it is scientifically
understood at the present day, cannot be carried much far-
ther back than their oldest contemporaneous authorities, and
that we find this confirmed in the nations of Europe and
Asia to the prejudice of their earliest histories, then it is
here precisely that exists the marked superiority of the his-
tory of Egvpt above all other histories. It is because we
have here sucli very early contemporaneous autliorities — not
only literary, but the most direct which exist, namely, monu-
mental authorities — that we possess the means of obtaining so
early a history of the Egyptians.

If, with reference to this, we first observe the local and
climatal conditions of Eg^-pt, we shall at once perceive that
they aid in a wonderful manner in preserving all kinds of
monuments and other relics of the earliest antiquity. A
damp climate generally prevails in the more elevated and
northern parts of Asia ; and in the more favoured regions,
owing to a periodical rainy season, the extensive plains are
covered with a fertile soil and luxuriant vegetation (the
barren and stony deserts being always deprived of any high
cultivation), consequently all, even the most solid, monu-
ments of art, where we might have hoped to find them in


considerable numbers, are overpowered and destroyed by the
predominating vital power of nature, ever inimical to the
works of man ; whereas the fertility of 'Egypt, as is well
known, is almost entirely independent of rain. This cer-
tainly applies less to the damp air, often pregnant with rain,
along the sea-coast, or to the well-watered and marshy low
district of the Delta. But it is principally for that reason
that there are so few remains of the numerous large and
flourishing towns of the Delta, and that these are hardly
worth mentioning. Irregular heaps of ruins alone exist now
of Memphis, tlie rich metropolis of Lower Egypt, reno\vned
in the earliest and latest periods of the Monarchy, and of
Heliopolis, Sais, Bubastis, and other important to^^-ns. The
granite obelisks in Alexandria are so corroded by the weather
that their inscriptions are hardly recognisable.

In Upper Egypt, where it scarcely/ ever rains, it is totally
different, especially with respect to all the monuments which
are situated on the borders of the desert, out of reach of the
annual inundation, and this is uniformly the case with the
iombs, the richest storehouses for our knowledge of ancient
Egyptian life, whicli in this country alone really fulfil their
true destination, by serving as an asylum against destruction
and decay. The narrow district of the Nile, annually re-
created, borders in its whole length on the wide, rocky, and
petrifying desert. The to^^^ls and temples were therefore
chiefly built on the boundary between the two, partly not to
intrench upon the fertile ground, partly in order that the
buildings should be upon a drier and more secure founda-
tion. And thus, in fact, we find the numerous temples and
palaces in wonderful preservation, so far as they are not
mutilated by the hand of man.

Even the black bricks made of Xile mud. ?.ud dried in the
sun, apparently the most perishable material, have not un-
frequently been preserved in the open air for thousands of
years, in the form in which they were built up, and with
their coating of plaster. A row of great vaulted halls,
built entirely of black iXile bricks, and partly covered in the



inside ^vitli stucco, stands about the celebrated temple of
tbe great Eamses, in Thebes. They date from the same
period as the temple itself, the beginning of the thirteenth
century before Christ. This is not alone testified by the
architectonic plan of the building, but most irrefutably by
the bricks themselves, which bear the name of Eamses-
Miamun stamped upon them, as a mark of the royal manu-
facture. At that time, and earlier, during the whole of
the 18th and 19th Dynasties, it was a \erj common prac-
tice to line the excavated rock-tombs with Nile bricks,
and afterwards to paint upon the stucco, especially wherever
the rock was friable, and was therefore hewn into a vaulted
roof. But the same custom is sometimes found even in the
earliest period of the Pyramids of Memphis. In enclosed
places, not only the buildiug material, but the colours, both
upon the stone and upon the plaster covering, have almost
without exception retained their original freshness and per-
fection, and also, Tevj frequently, where they have been ex-
posed to the open air.

The peculiar incorruptibility of vegetable and even of
animal matter is, however, still more astonishing. Our
museums are filled with such remains. In the most ancient
tombs of Memphis, a multitude of objects are found made
of wood, such as sarcophagi, chests, and boxes of all kinds,
chairs, instruments, small ships, lilcewise grains of corn, and
dried fruits, such as pomegranates, dates, the fruit of the
Doum Palm, nuts, almonds, beans, grapes ; also bread and
other food, besides cloth made of bast, a texture of reeds,
papyrus, and an incredible quantity of linen. The countless
number of mummies, also, are well known, which, though
taken out of their tombs, still last for centuries with their
skin and hair ; also all mummified bodies of animals, with
their furs and feathers ; even the iuternal parts of the human
body could there be embalmed for ever, and are still found
in vases expressly designed for that purpose.

This wonderful conservative property belonging to aU
ancient Egyptian objects, depends therefore chiefly upon the


sky being without rain, and the dry soil of the non-irrigated
desert. But the couutnt' offered another marked advantage
above other lands, namely, the greatest abundance of ma-
teriah especiaUy adapted for all kinds of monuments.

Chief among tliese, is an admirable stone of the most
varied quality, suited as well to building of all kinds, as to
the most delicate sculpture. The mountain range which
flanks the valley, and follows the course of the river from
the Delta to beyond Thebes, is composed of limestone ; in
the neighbourhood of ancient Memphis, upon the Lybian
side, where the Pyramids stand, it is a solid nummulitic
limestone, more adapted for excavations in the rock, and
for building stone, than for sculpture ; on the opposite side,
among the Arabian mountains, it has the finest grain, and is
of a uniform density, approaching almost to marble ; it is
capable of being worked in any manner, and on account of
the beautiful polish it takes, was used, among other pur-
poses, for the external covering of the Pyramids, while the
interior was made of the Lybian stone off the ground, upon
which they were erected. The Theban range of mountains
is almost everywhere composed of rock, of such an extremely
fine quality, that the sepulchral passages and chambers of
the dead, hewn out in the living rock, most of them several
hundred feet deep, running in various directions, were
capable of receinng everywhere the richest sculptures, in
the most delicate bas-reliefs, directly upon the polished
surface of the rock. Beyond Thebes there are ranges oi
sandstone mountains, from Grebel-Selseleh to Assuan. From
these, and especially from the enormous stone-quarries of
Selseleh, the architects as well as the sculptors of the New
Monarchy obtained their chief supply of the most excellent
and durable fine-grained sandstone. Pinally, the syenite
and granite of Assuan are still considered the most beautiful
and valuable of their kind, and were also used by the ancient
Egyptians not only for their monolithic colossi, obelisks,
sarcophagi, statues for entire small temples, &c., but were
employed as a building stone, at all periods. In the



Pyramid of Chufu, the high walls, the ceiling, and floor
of the greatest sarcophagus chamber, are entirely made of
polished granite, and the third Pyramid of Mencheres was
cased with it up to a certain height.

I shall here pass over all the other more valuable kinds
of stone, particularly those of the higher Arabian moun-
tains, abundantly used in ancient Egypt, each in its own
way, especially the beautiful yellow alabaster, several very
valuable breccias, greenstone, serpentine, and the bluish-red
porphyry of Gebel-Dochau, which was much employed at
a later period, as they were all reserved rather for pur-
poses of luxury. But we must not omit to mention here,
that the abundance of building stone in this country was
doubled by the ease of transport from one end of Egypt to
the other, upon the great water road of the Kile ; therefore,
sandstone and granite were used nearly as much at Thebes,
and in all that part of the country where limestone rock
alone was to be found near at liand, as in Upper Egypt,
where it was hewn.

Limestone or sandstone have been always, and in all coun-
tries, the most important material for monumental pro-
ductions. "Where this was wanting, or was obtained with
diificulty, as in Babylon, or on the Indus, or in the north of
Germany, earthen bricks were used as the best substitute, at
least for building purposes. But in Egypt also they could
be replaced by bricks of the best quality, since the soft,
clayey Nile mud was especially adapted for the latter. Thus
the wary Egyptians not only did not neglect this expedient,
but made the utmost use of it, and with greater results than
anywhere else, because here it was not required to take the
place of some better material, but only preferred in those
cases where the object itself made it appear best adapted.
This more especially applies to great dykes, town walls, and
those temple enclosures which were to contain no covered
rooms, and no delicately constructed parts ; therefore, even in
the earliest times. Pyramids were also built of bricks. They
were employed to fill up the ground and to make elevations,
but were more especially everywhere used where large spaces


bad to be covered in, witbout incurring tbe great expense of
buge slabs of stone, before tbe useful principle of concentric
8tone-cuttin2: was known. This occasioned tbe remarkably
earlj use of brick-vaulted roofs, along witb tbe imperfect
stone arcb, wbicb was, as it were, only cut out of borizontal
layers of stone. Hence arose tbe custom, connected witb
tbis, wbicb we bave already mentioned, of lining rock-cbam-
bers of crumbling stone ^vitb arcbes of JS'ile bricks. Tbe ex-
ternal layers of tbe brick buildings in Babylon and Nineveb
were generally made of burnt bricks, and yet tbey could not
resist tbe cHmate and time. In Egypt, dried bricks alone
were everywhere used ; owing to tbeir natural solidity, and
to tbe climate, tbey answered better for tbeir monumental
purpose tlian tbe burnt bricks of Babylon, wbicb is still
proved by tbe numerous extant brick buildings, witb tlieir
stucco and tbeir pictures.

But in tbe history of a nation, a substance favourable
to its book literature is of no less importance than tbe
material for building and sculpture. Egj^Dt possessed also
for tbis purpose an invaluable product of tbe country,
tbe papyrus plant, from wbicb tbey were able to ob-
tain a perfect material for writing upon, unsurpassed
throughout antiquity. IS'eitber tbe skins of tbe lonians,
nor the linen of tbe ancient Eomans, nor tbe cotton
atuft' and palm leaves of tbe Indian, nor tbe parchment of
Mysia, are to be compared witb tbe Egyptian pap3rrus in
pliability, or in tbe power of extension, in durability and
cheapness ; therefore its use became gradually more widely
spread, and was preserved far down into tbe middle ages.
Even the later discovered paper of our own time has not
only retained tbe name of tbe ancient plant, but, with regard
to its material, can only be looked upon as a continuation
and perfecting of tbe EgN^tian paper, since pressed fibres of
plants (particularly of flax and hemp) bave proved to be the
most suitable material, even up to the present day. In
ancient times tbe papyrus plant grew more especially in tbe
marshy ground of tlie iS'ile Delta, and is only elsewhere men-


tioned by Pliny as growing near S}Tacuse, wliere to tliis day
it is found in great abundance. Why, on the other hand, it
has become almost entirely extinct in Egypt, may be ex-
plained by the circumstance that it was artificially cultivated
to an extent far beyond its natural powers of growth, and
became therefore, like other plants, exhausted. Its use may
be traced back to the most ancient times of Egypt; the
papyrus roll and the writing apparatus are found upon
monuments as early as the 4th and 5th Dynasties, therefore
between three and four thousand years before Christ. But
this discovery of very ancient Egypt, which may perhaps be
considered as the most important, next to the invention of
writing, only obtains its full significance in history by the
unaltered preservation of those very rolls of writing for thou-
sands of years. Eor they not only afforded the Egyptian
priests the benefit of prhneval uninjured archives, but we
still obtain from them the instructive contemplation of a
multitude of such original documents, written on papyrus,
from the prosperous times of the JMonarchy.

In addition, however, to the external aid afforded by the
climate and productions of Egypt, for the preservation of its
history, is to be mentioned tlie internal and more efficient
influence derived from the original direction of the national
character — its historical sense. Tliis can by no means be
explained solely by the reaction which the facility of immor-
talising the present, and the peculiarly conservative nature
of the neighbouring desert, might produce upon the original
tendency of the national mind ; as little as .we can interpret
the striking want of a sense for history, among the Indian
people, by tlic less favourable locality of their country. The
ultimate foundation for such national individualities can
always alone be sought, in the particular part they are called
to play in the general history of the world. But, on a
nearer examination, we can have no doubt that such an his-
torical sense existed among the Egyptian people in an un-
usually high degree, and was cultivated by them in all its


It is first of all demonstrated by the incredible midtitude
of monuments of every kind, wbicli Avere at all periods
erected by kings, and persons of private fortune. All the
chief cities of Egypt were adorned with temples and pa-
laces, and the other towns, frequently indeed more insig-
nificant places, with at least one, often with several sanc-
tuaries; these were filled with statues of the gods and
kings of all sizes, composed of the most valuable stone,
and the walls externally and internally were covered with
coloured sculptures. To erect these public buildings, and
to endow them splendidly, was the exclusive privilege and
pride of kings. In their turn the richer portion of the
people vied with them in their concern for the dead, by
erecting monumental tombs. Whilst with reference to public
buildings, the passion for building among the Greeks and
Bomans, in their most prosperous days, can alone be placed
beside that of the Pharaonic time, the Egyptian necropoli
far surpass those of Greece and Eome, both in extent and in
the number of the monuments, as well as in the richness of
their execution, especially in their endowment of pictures
and inscriptions.

But next to the multitude and splendour of these works,
tlie unsurpassed attention paid to their durability, especially
proves the innate historical sense of the Egyptians. That
they laid due stress on the great age of their buildings,
follows from the annalistic account of Manetho, which is
in no respect liable to suspicion, by which we learn that
even Tosortiieos, the second king of the 2nd Dynasty, a7id
the cotemporary of Menes, commenced budding with liewn

stones dia ^ecTTtoi/ \l6u)v.

And it is hardly necessary to mention the great Pyramids
of Memphis, those colossal massive structures, which, solid
tliroughout, and built of strong nicely joined hewn stones,
are piled up above the sepulchral chambers, cut out of the
living rock, generally without leaving any vacant space, like
artificial rocks in the simplest form, as if he who built them
had been aware that, in them he laid the foundation of the

376 iXTROcrcTiox

future gigantic building — the History of Man. This may
equally refer to all the other buildings, whether they are
destined for the living or the dead ; the desire to labour for
eternity is imprinted upon all of them.

The belief which was early formed of a life after death,
and of a relation continuing to subsist between the soul and
the body, was closely connected with this ; and along with
it the exaggerated care that was bestowed upon the bodies

Online LibraryRichard LepsiusLetters from Egypt, Ethiopia, and the peninsula of Sinai → online text (page 32 of 54)