Richard Lepsius.

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

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seams of the enormous blocks, and examined the quality of tho
stones of the passages and chambers. In the spacious hall,
whose floor, walls, and ceiling, are entirely built of granite,
and, therefore, return a metallic-sounding echo, we sang our
Prussian hymn, which sounded so powerful and so solemn
that our guides afterwards told the remaining Bedouins that
we had selected the innermost part of the Pyramid to per-
form divine service and utter a loud general prayer. We
now visited also the so-called Chamber of the Queen, and
then quitted the Pyramid, reserving the view of the chambers
which were more difficult of access for a future and longer

Meantime, our orientally-ornamented tent had been ar-
ranged, and a dinner was prepared within it, seasoned by
the importance of the festival, of which only Prussians par-
took, with the exception of our two English companions.
It need hardly be told that our first toast on this occasion,
also, was to the king and his household, a.nd it required no
great eloquence to inspire all hearts.

The remainder of the day passed in cheerfiil, festive, and
tender reminiscences and conversation, till the time for our
departure had arrived. We were still obliged to wait a
quarter of an hour after sunset to give our servants, our
mule-drivers, and other Arabian attendants, time to eat their
frugal meal, as, on account of the Eamadan, in spite of the
heat and labours of the day, they had not yet tasted any-
thing. Then the clear, full moon guided us in the cool and
silent night across the sea of sand and waters, through vil-
lages and palm-groves back to the city, which we did not
reach before midnight.



At the foot of the largest Fyrarnid, the 2nd Jan., 1843.
Still always here ! in full activity since the 9th Novem-
ber, and perhaps for several vreeks longer in the new year.
But yet, how could I suspect from the accounts that have
hitherto been given by travellers what a harvest we had to
gather on this spot ; here, on the oldest scene of all deter-
'minable chronological human history. It is strange how
little this spot has been examined, though it has been the
most frequently visited in Egypt. I will not, however,
quarrel with our predecessors, as we reap the fruits of their
neglect. I have rather been compelled to restrain our desire
to see more of this land of wonders, as we shall perhaps
have to discharge half of our whole task on this spot. Two
tombs, besides the Pyramids, are conspicuously marked on
the best of the earlier maps. Eosellini has only accurately
examined one tomb ; and Champollion says, in his letters :
" II y a peu a faire ici, et lorsqu'on aura copie des scenes de
la vie domestique, sculptees dans un tombeau, je regagnerai
nos embarcations." We have given forty-five tombs on our
accurate topographical plan of the whole necropolis, whose
occupants have become known to me by their inscriptions,
and altogether I have recorded eighty-two, which seemed
worthy of notice, by their inscriptions or by other pecu-
liarities.* Eew of them belong to later times ; almost all of
them were built during, or shortly after the erection of the
great Pyramids, and therefore afibrd us an invaluable series
of dates for the knowledge of the oldest determinable civili-
sation of the human race. The architecture of that period,
about which I formerly could only offer conjectures,t is now
clearly developed before me. "We have thus early presented

* On our departure for Upper Egypt, we had minutely examined 130
private tombs, and had discovered the remains of 67 Pyramids.

t See my essay, Sur fordre des colonnes piliers en Egypte et ses rap-
ports avec le second ordre Egyptien et la colonne Grecque (avec deux
planches), in the ninth volume of the Anuales de I'lnstitut. de Cor-
resp. Arche'ol. Rome, 1838.


to US almost all the different component parts of architec-
ture ; sculptures of entire figures, of all sizes, in alto-relievo
and basso-relievo, are presented in astonishing numbers.
The style is verv marked, and beautifullv executed, but it is
evident that the Egyptians of that time did not yet possess
that canon of proportions which we find prevailing at a later

The painting on a very fine coating of lime is often beau-
tiful beyond conception, and is sometimes preserved as fresh*
and perfect as if it had been done yesterday. The repre-
sentations on the walls chiefly contain scenes from the life
of the deceased, and appear especially intended to place
before the eyes of the spectator his wealth in cattle, fish,
game, boats, domestics, &c. "We thus become familiar with
all the details of his private life. The numerous inscriptions
describe or designate these scenes, or they exhibit the often
widely-branching family of the deceased, and all his titles
and offices, so that I could almost compose a court and state
calendar of King Cheops, or Chephren, The most splendid
tombs or rock-sepulchres belonged principally to the princes,
their relatives, or the highest official persons under the
kings beside whose Pyramids they are laid ; and not unfre-
quently, I have found the tombs of father, son, and grand-
son, even great grandson, so that whole pedigrees of those
distinguished families, who, above 5000 years ago, formed
the nobility of the land, are brought to light. The most
beautiful of the tombs, which, with many others, I myself
discovered beneath the sand, which here buries all things,
belongs to a prince of the ^mily of King Cheops,

I am now employing daily from forty to sixty people in
excavations and similar works. I have also made them dig
in front of the great Sphinx, to disclose the small temple
which is situated between its paws, and to expose the colossal
stele of a single block of granite, eleven feet high and seven
feet broad, which forms the back wall of the little temple,
and which is still covered up with sand to nearly its entire
*Seep. 115

A STonii- 03

height. It is one of the few monuments here from the
times of the great Pharaohs of the Xew Monarchy, after the
expulsion of the Hvksos : I have had a plaster cast taken
of it.

The Egyptian winter is not always so spring-like as is
sometimes imagined in Europe. About sunrise, when all
hasten to their work, we have already had it -j- o'^ B. (43^
Fahr.). so that the sketch ers could hardly use their fingers.

The winter season began here with a scene which will
always be vividly remembered by me. I had ridden out to
the excavations, when seeing a large black cloud approach-
ing, I sent a servant to the tents, to take care of them, but
as it began to rain slightly, I soon rode after him myself.
Shortly after my arrival a storm of wind began ; I therefore
ordered the cords of the tents to be secured, but soon a
violent shower of rain came in addition, which alarmed aU
our Arabs, and drove them into the rock-tomb, in which is
our kitchen. Erbkam and Franke were the only ones of
our own party here. Suddenly the storm became a regular
hurricane, such as I had never witnessed in Europe, and a
hailstorm came down on us, which almost turned the day
into night. I had the greatest trouble to drive our Arabs
out of the grotto, that they might bring our things to the
rock-tombs, where it was dry, as every moment we might
expect the overthrow of the tents. And it was not long
before first our common tent fell down, and when I had
hastened from that into my own, in order to hold it from
the inside, this also broke down above me. After I had
crawled out, I found that my things were tolerably well
covered by the tent, so that for the present I might leave
them alone, to prevent a still greater danger. Our tents,
protected from the worst winds, the north and west, lay in
a depression of the valley, towards which the plateau of the
Pyramids inclines. From that place I suddenly saw a rapid
mountain torrent precipitating, like a gieantic serpent on
its certain prey, upon our encampment, already hadi de-


stroyed and beaten into the sand. The principal stream
first dashed towards the great tent ; another arm threatened
mine, but did not however quite reach it. Everything, how-
ever, which had been floated out of our tents by the heavy
rain was carried off by both streams, which united below the
tents, and was borne a hundred steps farther into a deep
hollow behind the Sphinx, where a great lake, which fortu-
nately had no outlet, formed itself in a moment.

Now picture to yourself this scene ! Our tents shattered
to the ground by the storms of rain and hail, between two
mountain torrents, which at once dug out a channel for
themselves in the sandy ground, in several places six feet
deep, and carried down with them into the muddy, foam-
covered, slimy lake, our books, drawings, sketches, linen,
instruments of all kinds, even our levers and iron crows, in
short ever}i:hing they laid hold on. In addition to this, we
ourselves, with dripping clothes, without hats, securing the
heavier articles, pursuing the lighter ones, wading up to the
waist in the stream or lake, to fish out what the sand had
not yet swallow^ed, and all this the work of a quarter of an
hour, at whose expiration the sun forthwith shone again, and
proclaimed the end of this deluge scene by a splendid and
brilliant rainbow.

It was difficult to see at once what we had lost, and where
we had to begin, to bring things again into some order.
Both the Weidenbachs and Trey had gazed, from the tombs
where they were working, upon the whole scene, as a mag-
nificent natural spectacle, not suspecting what we had ex-
perienced here, till I sent for them to assist us immediately
in preparing for the approaching night. For several days
we continued to fish and dig for our things. Many were
lost, much had become useless ; the greater part of what was
not enclosed in chests and trunks bore more or less traces of
this flood. After all, however, nothing essential was de-
stroyed. I had flrst placed in safety the great portfolios,
with my manuscripts and books ; in short, a few days after-


death, the whole affair only seemed to me a remarkable pic-
ture, which I should be sorry to forget, without leaving any
disagreeable consequences behind it.

Since then, we have often had to suffer from violent winds,
which sometimes fill the air for several days together with
sand, to such a degree, as to be annoying to the lungs ; it
entirely prevents painting with colours, and covers the
drawing and writing-paper incessantly with a most disagree-
able and constantly renewed coat of dust. This fine sand
penetrates all our clothes, enters every box, even those which
close most perfectly, fills nose, ears, and hair, and is the
unavoidable ingredient of all food, solid and liquid.

5th January. — On the evening of the first Christmas
holiday, I surprised my companions by a great fire, which 1
had caused to be lighted on the summit of the highest Pyra-
mid. The flame illuminated both the other Pyramids splen-
didly, as well as the whole field of tombs, and shone quite
across the valley as far as Cairo. That was indeed a
Christmas Pyramid! I only let Abeken into the secret,
who, with his constantly cheerful temper, and his intellectual
and instructive conversation, had happily joined us on the
10th December. With his assistance I then prepared a
special Christmas-tree for the following day, in the King's
Chamber of the Great Pyramid. "We planted a young palm-
tree in the sarcophagus of the ancient king, and adorned it
with lights, and small presents, which I had ordered from the
town for us children of the desert. St. Sylvester must have
his share of honours also. At twelve o'clock on New-year's
Eve immense flames rose simultaneously at midnight from
the three great PjTamids, and proclaimed the changes of the
Christian year, far and wide, to the Islamite provinces at
their base.

I consider it to be a useful mental regimen to our party
that their tedious and monotonous labours, more especially
those of our artists, should be relieved not by the weekly
holiday of Sunday only, but also as often as there are oppor-
tunities, by cheerful festiWties and agreeable diversions. Nor


lias the slightest discord hitherto disturbed the happj dis-
position and the good-humour of our confederation, which
dailj acquires fresh elasticity, both from the abundance of
new impressions that we receive, and from the mutual re-
ciprocation of the diflferent natures and talents, as by over-
coming the manifold difficulties and hardships of this Bedouin
life itself.

Tou may judge of the variety of the elements of which
our assembled party is composed, by the Babel of languages
in which we continually move ; the English language is com-
petently represented by our companions. Wild and Bonomi ;
French and Itahan serve for our intercourse with the au-
thorities, with strangers and Levantine interpreters. "We
give orders, eat, and travel, in Arabic, and we reflect, talk,
sing, and live, in good G-erman. But during the day we
usually all live separate, and uninterruptedly each at his own
work. We take our coff'ee before sunrise, and our dinner
after sunset ; and breakfast during work. Thus our draughts-
men have already been enabled to supply our swelling port-
folios with a hundred great folio sheets, cleanly executed,
partly in pencil, partly in colours.


The Pyramids of Gizeh, llth Jamiary, 1843.

- The inscription which was composed in celebration of the

king's birthday has now become a stone monumental tablet,

in the fashion of the old steles and Proskynemata,* and its

contents are as follows ; the nearer, indeed, it approaches

* Proskynemata. " Sometimes travellers who happened to pass by a
temple inscribed a votive sentence on the walls, to indicate their re-
spect for the deity, and solicit his protection during their journey, the
complete formula of which contained the adoration (proskunema) of the
writer, with the assurance that he had been mindful of his wife, his
family, and friends; and the reader of the inscription was sometimes
included in a share of the blessings it solicited. The date of the king's
reign, and the day of the month, were also added, with the profession
and parentage of the writer." — Wilkinson's Ancient Egypt, vol. iii.,
p. 395.— Tr.


the manner of the Egyptians, tlie less appropriate is it in
German :

" Thus speak the servants of the King, whose name is the
SuK AifD EocK or Prussia, Lepsius the scribe, Erbkam the
architect, the Brothers Weidenbach the painters, Frey the
painter, Franke the moulder, Bonomi the sculptor, "Wild the
architect : All hail to the Eagle, the Peotector of the
Cross, to the King the Suis' akd Eock of Prussia, to the
Son of the Sun,* who freed his Eatherland, Frederick "Wil-
liam the Fourth, the Philopator, the Father of his Country,
the Gracious One, the Favourite of "Wisdom and History,
the Guardian of the Ehine, whom Germany has chosen, the
Dispenser of Life. May the Most high God grant the
King, and his Consort, the Queen Elizabeth, the Eich in
Life, the Philometor, the Mother of her Country, the Gra-
cious One, an ever new and long Kfe on Earth, and a blessed
habitation in Heaven through all Eternity. In the year of
our Saviour, 1842, in the tenth month, on the fifteenth day,
on the forty-seventh Birthday of his Majesty, on the Pyra-
mid of King Cheops ; in the third year, in the fifth month,
on the ninth day of the reign of his Majesty ; in the year
3164 from the commencement of the Sothis period under the
King Menepthes."

"We left behind us the hieroglyphic inscription engraved
on stone and painted with oil colour, occupying a space five
feet broad and four feet high. The stone, specially polished
and prepared for the purpose, is placed at a considerable
height near the entrance into the Pyramid of Cheops.

It seemed to me fitting, that while the members of the Prus-
sian expedition dedicated this tablet to the much-honoured
Prince by whom they were sent hither, they should at the
same time, for the sake of future travellers, leave behind
them some traces of their activity on this field of Pyramids,
where it was reserved for them to gather together the rich

* " Every Pharaoh was the Sun of Egypt, and over his name bore
' Son of the Sun ;' and as the sun was Phra, so each king was called
Phra. Each monarch by law inherited his father's throne in lineal
succession, so that the incumbent was Phra son of Phra." — Gliddon's
Ancient Egypt, p. 32. — Tk.



materials for tlie first chapter of the Scientific History of

Do not, however, believe that these are the important
works which detain us here so long. Our journej has this
advantage over previous ones — that spots like this are en-
titled to occupy us until they have been thoroughly ran-
sacked. "We already know that even the gigantic and mag-
nificent ruins of the Theban plain can reveal nothing which
can equal in interest the Memphitic times of the Old Mo-

We must, indeed, one day depart ; but it will even then
be with the conviction that we leave an infinite amount of
interesting materials behind, which might still be obtained.
I had already resolved on our departure several days ago,
when suddenly a series of tombs, different in architecture,
and in the style of the figures and hieroglyphics, with other
titles, and besides, as was to be expected, -with other Tcinqs*
names, again disclosed a new epoch.

It is still by no means conclusive how much has been
gained in an historical point of view, or, at any rate, it is
but dimly discerned. I was, however, in the right when,
even in Europe, I proposed to reconstruct the 3rd Dynasty
from the monuments. I have not yet found a single Shield
which could be safely placed before the 4th Dynasty. It
appears that the builders of the great Pyramids desired to
assert their rights, to having formed the commencement of
monumental history, although it is as clear as day that they
were not the first to build and to inscribe their monuments.
We have even now found many kings' names hitherto un-
known, and variations of other names ; thus :