Travel impressions VII

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For forty-six years, Egypt enjoyed of a peace achieved under the treaty with Hatti, a historic agreement that allowed to Hattusili III conjure the Assyrian menace, but his son and successor, Tutaliya IV, although he maintained the stability in the area, thanks to a intense diplomatic activity  with Shalmaneser, he was forced to fight soon with, Tukulti-Ninurta, who nothing but accede to the throne, launched an offensive northward, seizing the region of Subaru to the south of Mittani in order to settle down in the Euphrates, while avoiding to invade the protectorates Egyptians and Hittites.

Assyria along most of its existence, about thirteen hundred years, made extensive use of terror as a form of propaganda, a system which, otherwise, was not of its exclusive use , many and very famous Egyptians kings, Babylonians, Hittites etc. liked to boast publicly of having decapitated, dismembered or unskinned people, although the ferocity of the Assyrian kings was then a topic, a sign of identity, Assurbanipal II, pointed out in detail, about the year six hundred-odd:

“I built a pillar at the gate of the city and skin the chiefs who had rebelled against me and my lord Assur,  hanging his skin on the pillar. Some of them were buried in the foundation, others were impaled on stakes on the pillar and others (also) the impaled on stakes around the pillar. I skin many throughout the country and hung his skin on the walls …

I burned many of their prisoners. I captured many troops alive. I cut off the arms or hands to some people, to others I cut off the nose, ears and limbs. I extracted the eyes of many soldiers. I did a lot of living beings and other of their heads. I hung their heads in the trees around the city. I burned your teens, boys and girls … “

Under pressure from Tukulti-Ninurta, in that moment Tutaliya IV sent a bloated army against the Assyrians, to support the  Hurrians from Subaru, but to no avail and 28,000 prisoners Hittites were deported to Mesopotamia.

Ramses did nothing then or when, immediately after, Mittani fell, and remained impassive while Tukulti-Ninurta added to his titles that of king of Babylon, a city that was unable to face his former vassals, seeing on the need to accept the assyrian protectorate. Ramses II, who possessed the most powerful army the world had to recognize the Assyrian sovereignty in the area if they wanted to ensure the commercial traffic.

Ramses II, meanwhile really was not bored at all, he “produced” two hundred children or so  and in addition was very busy propagandizing himself through monuments and temples that spread from Nubia to the Delta and beyond their own borders, ad nauseam, erecting and record his name everywhere, even he built his own city which, of course, bearing his name, Pi-Ramses (the city of Ramses), the former Avaris, the city of the Hyksos, abandoning Thebes and doing her, little later,  the capital of Egypt . The settlement of the guilds of artists in Deir el Medineh founded by Tuthmosis I,  grew into a small town in time of Ramses. But beyond the borders of Egypt, the world was changing without apparently he could do nothing to prevent it, so Ramses merely was adapting him as far as possible to new circumstances presented and which finally would overflow him , though it was not until his death when began to be felt the financial decline in the country. The root of the problem that it dragged back Egypt to a crisis  was on the one hand, the economic policy of the monarchy, which relied primarily on the taxes from the provinces of his empire, taxes and the percentage of trade while at the same time, were giving privileges to the temples, now masters of their own army, consisting of POWs transferred by the monarchy itself, and that also they were owners of most of the arable land, tax exempt and immunized in front of the king’s authority, besides monarchy had to cover the enormous expenses entailed by too much deployment of polished sandstone.

When the Achaeans conquered Troy, gaining access to trade routes of the Black Sea, might seem that the economic expansion of the Achaeans would bring more wealth to Egypt, but suddenly people from the north, the Dorians, had begun to infiltrate into territory Mycenaean assaulting some populations, while the Achaeans at that time just extended their influence to the Anatolian and Syrian coasts. The leak soon became a genuine invasion, a flood that completely devastated the region with the exception of the Athenian Attica. It is possible that the opening of the Black Sea trade route after the destruction of Troy, left without a job or benefit to the peoples from the north of the Mycenaean world, among which were the Dorians, who dominated the northern alternative route , which used the european rivers, for trading with the Colchis. Either way, different groups of people moved over southern Greece and Anatolia, reaching the Aegean islands, pushing indigenous peoples, the mysians, Lydians, Phrygians, Carians and others to flee in disarray leaving their land, going to set in different regions of Libya, Palestine and Italy to dedicate in many cases to piracy.

The invasion did not reach directly to Egypt but ruined the economic fabric of the monarchy, depriving them of provincial taxes and trade taxes, when stopped the influx of ships to ports. In the last times of his reign, Ramses needed to usurp other statues and monuments of the pharaoh Amenhotep III, in the absence of labor, replacing the original names for his own name, carving the reliefs in stone with a depth that would not allow others to do what he had done.

The son and successor of Ramses, Mineptah had to deal with these “Sea Peoples”, first indirectly forced to assist with wheat to the Hittites, who were being invaded by several fronts, and later fighting against a coalition of Libyans, sardanians, Achaeans, Sicilians, Lycians and Etruscans (among all these people were the “Meshwesh” that had been settled peacefully on the western frontier and even in the Delta itself, from Ramses II epoch and many of them were hired as mercenaries) who had invaded the Delta from the west, from Libya, under the direction of such one Meriai, who marched to Memphis sweeping everything away in its path, while synchronously, many foreign prisoners who worked in mines and quarries were rebelling.

Mineptah he did not repress himself an apex with the heterogeneous army of  Meriai , busting it totally, but nevertheless the invader leader reached to flee  of the carnage, leaving behind him ten thousand casualties and many other prisoners that Mineptah gave to the temples to serving there as slaves. To prevent future uprisings, he ordered the expulsion of foreigners who had been stablished in Egyptian territory (in this time frame is usually is sited the Jewish exodus) unfortunate act that would deepen the economic ruin of the monarchy and specially of the poorer classes, which were gradually descending to the lowest ranks, those that had been occupied for the foreigners prisioners into the economic pyramid of Egyptian society. After properly celebrate the military success, the king marched without delay with the powerful army of Ramses towards the eastern provinces, recovering Palestine quickly (which name come from  pelestiu or philisthim, the Philistines, one of the Sea Peoples, of Cretan origin according to biblical sources).

At Mineptah death, the ruin of the monarchy is evident and the throne, for a very short time, fell into the hands of a usurper,  such one Amenmes, about who little or nothing is known, then come Queen Tausert, apparently from Ramesside lineage and later Mineptah-Siptah after marrying her. Actually since the death of Mineptah, it was opened a period of genuine chaos in the country, of which mainly took advantage the oligarchs and the authentic nobility of the South: the priesthood of Amun. Bakhenkhonsu, high priest of Amon, despite the crisis, handled enough capital to afford to restore the old palace of the high priests, dating from the Twelfth Dynasty, although in the rest of the country all public works have been abandoned.

From Nubia, which had been stayed away as viceroyalty, Seti II, probably from the lineage of Ramses, marched to Thebes where he was crowned, and at least he was proposed to restore some order, a task that would continue for a short time his son, Ramses-Siptah , and after his death, the country is sinked into the abyss, being broken up into large properties, and the common people definitively dragged the semi-slavery.  To make matters worse, a Canaanite named Iarsu, seized the country and delivered it to bands of Libyans, dedicated to plundering and to fomenting instability and terror.

 

The clergy represented the only real authority, although just most important temples possessed private armies, who used circumstantially in police work and were also eventually able to confront the gangs of Libyans. Sethnakht, of unknown origin or perhaps another descendant of Ramses, with the indispensable support of the clergy, got expelling or reduce to slavery the Libyans bands and the own usurper Iarsu, besides he stopped the governors abuses, restoring the monarchy and founding the twentieth Dynasty, the year 1200 before the current era. Sethnakht associated soon his son Ramses III to the throne, famous king who would restore some glory to Egypt, through its military successes. At Sethnakht death, Ramses III at three times, avoided the invasion of the tangle of peoples who were gathering on the Libyan border. He captured tens of thousands of POWs, among which, he chose staff for the army, and/or his personal guard, because Ramses III needed some troops that the regime of immunities of the temples robbed him, really just the fleet, some divisions of archers and the high command were made up of Egyptians, the divisions of chariots and infantry were composed entirely of foreigners led by their own chiefs.

In a joint maneuver, a large fleet of “Sea Peoples” tried to force the mouth of the Nile while at the same time  a large contingent tried to enter in the Delta by ground, evidently they had believed that Ramses would not able to handle two fronts at once, although were wrong and the walls of the splendid palace of Medinet Habu itemize conveniently the carnage. Facing a Syrian port Ramses sank the rest of the invading fleet, but despite all his victories, was unable to regain Palestine. After this, a strange peace prevailed, product by tireness of the great powers, which lasted for more than eighty years, during which, new states would see the light, while former countries languish or even disappear as Ugarit, Amurru, Mitanni or Hatti, although some hittites  survived in the cities of Carchemish and Aleppo.

Assyria was too busy slaughtering arameans,  who were not less bloodthirsty than themselves and persistently  invaded its borders, so it was absent from the political scene, like Egypt, where none of the successive Ramses was able to grab the limelight from clergy of Amon, or cushion the ruin of the population, (what it became in rebellion in many occasions, including at the times of Ramses III). By contrast the Phoenician cities that did take advantage of the disappearance of Achaean navigation and of the political independence that they enjoyed, they met a period of prosperity that let them to project themselves into the western Mediterranean and establishing new trade routes between the sicilians, with the Etruscans established in Italy, going so far as Tartessos and even beyond. The Philistines who had wrested its empire to Egypt, founded the Pentapolis (Gaza, Ascalón, Asdod, Gat y Ecrón), and also had benefits but often faced with the Israelite tribes settled in Canaan from the time of Joshua, are times of the biblical Samson.

After the death of Ramses III, fruit of a sordid palace conspiracy, a matter of jealousy from his first wife by the issue of succession; the apparent splendor of the monarchy of Ramses IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X and XI, was a fiction, power was effectively in the oligarchic, the feudal princes of Lower Egypt and specially in the hands of the temples, the king was not more than the feudal prince with more titles. The economic pyramid then would look much like a thumbtack with the point upward, stable enough but potentially dangerous.

Stele from Israel (The triumph of Merenptah)

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