travel impressions XI

It goes without saying that the fall of Nineveh was a much celebrated event, however the disappearance of Assyria, it meant nothing at all, because Media was in a position to may fill that vacuum, in fact had got a powerful army, well trained,  equipped at Assyrian style and buttressed with Scythian and Cimmerian tribes (even more bloodthirsty than the Assyrians), only the agreements of the mede monarchy  with Lydia and Babylon, which were solid and were backed with characteristic marriages of members of royal houses , kept the Persian hosts in their headquarters.

This situation changed when the grandson of King,  the Persian Cyrus,  backed by the Babylonian diplomacy, which hoped can split the huge mede empire , was proclaimed Emperor by the combined forces Mede-Persians,   betraying in that way to the hitherto mede king Astyages . But Cyrus defeated the mede opposition, frustrating the Babylonian aspirations,  unifying his kingdom  again and he treated well to his deposed grandfather, which was out of the usual and that became a brand of Persian diplomacy.

In times of Alyattes, the fourth king of  Lydia if we ignore the mythical king Lido, contemporary of Trojan War, the Lydian empire covered Caria, the rich cities of the Ionian coast and Phrygia, annexed after that the reign of the famous King Midas succumbed under the last Cimmerian invasion, although these countries kept their own rulers and enjoyed broad autonomy. The Lydians were not Greeks, but Greek influence was determinant in the country and old, in the same way the own Greek culture was permeated largely by lydian culture on issues such as music and the arts, but during the reign of Croesus, married to a greek lady, the greek alphabet was adopted,  achieving to win recognition of the most influential cities, Athens and Corinth, Sparta also established an alliance with Lydia shortly after receiving as a gift a golden statue of Apollo, besides there is evidence that Croesus made frequent and substantial donations to the temple of Delphi. Lydian success came mainly from trade and its mineral resources, worldwide including Babylon and Egypt, maintained close diplomatic and financial contacts with Sardis and his port Trebizond should be one of the busiest in the world (in Castilian exists the voice  “Trapisonda” which means” bustle, fuss”). Lydia, technically could  be the birthplace of modern monetarist capitalism since that Croesus (others say Gyges, others Ardis, others Sadiates) was the first to mint a coin with portrait, the bust of a lion, symbol of the Mermnada dynasty,  with a weight and alloy guaranteed, until then everyone used ingots from diverse shape and composition and with weights or measures like the Greek obolus and drachma,  latter this one, equivalent to the Egyptian kedet.

According to tradition, an oracle at Delphi foretold the fall of an empire, in the case of that Croesus, with an army, was traversing the Halys river, so, hoping to defeat the Persian army and without waiting for help to arrive that  Amasis had sent him,  crossed the border with Persia and discovered that the empire that had to fall was his own. Cyrus, after taking Sardis, treated Croesus superbly, giving him a handful of cities in Mede territory , becoming a sort of royal adviser on international affairs, so effective that in a few months, all the Greek cities of Asia, were subjected by the persian commander, Harpagus. Cyrus  not crossed the sea to continue to the West, but chose to extend their possessions in the north, northeast and south to India with a view to ensuring to his empire an inexhaustible source of income.
Babylon, which did nothing to curb the development of events, after a brief confrontation, he fell into the arms of Cyrus, who triumphantly entered the city without find resistance, which suggests that he should have influential supporters, foes of Nabonidus, who otherwise, used to spend too much time away from the city, in the Arab oasis of Taima. Nabonidus came to throne after six years of dynastic instability, toppling to Labashi-Marduk, the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, son of the his son-in-law, Neriglissar, who had deposed his son Amel-Marduk. Apparently Nabonidus was distanced from clergy of Babylon, loyal to Marduk, showing himself follower of the god Sin, an ancient god of the moon, breaking with the official solar worship. Furthermore Nabonidus did not belong to the royal house, possibly was from Aramaic source, apparently nothing bound him to the city, however in front of  the threat of the Persians, had a controversial gesture, he returned to Babylon from  Taima and ordered to gather all images of Gods in the city, bringing them directly from their temples. It was customary at those times that after conquering a city, the patron gods were “kidnapped” by the invading army and deported to the victorious city , a form of humiliation that perhaps Nabonidus tried to avoid  with this action, or maybe he wanted to force their faithful to come to defend the city,  in any case the people preferred to surrender to the Persians without a fight. Nabonidus, as Croesus, he was well treated and was appointed satrap of Carmania. After the fall of Babylon the Phoenician cities recognized the Persian sovereign,  providing to the empire, free access to his powerful fleet.

The role of “chosen of Yahveh” that Cyrus represent in the Bible, indicates that perhaps the Jewish community in Babylon, the descendants of those that were deported by Nebuchadnezzar, like the clergy of Marduk, should have any reasons to consider to Cyrus as a liberator, is a fact that he authorized the return of the Israelites into Canaan and retun the privileges to Marduk’s clergy. In any case the formula that linked the Persian kings with the divinity was different from that of surrounding countries; while Egyptian ethic considered the king as “son of Ra” nothing less,  Persian moral code understood that the  king is like much “the chosen of Ahura Mazda“, which already was sufficient as to raise blisters among the feudal princes Persians,  that was something like “the executor of the will of God” that it comes to mean “one who pursues the good and administrate with justice on behalf of God “. In this sense  at the conquered countries the monarch was titled as “the chosen” of each local deity, that of Marduk in Babylon, that of Zeus or Apollo in Lydia and Ionia, the concept also reinforced into the Jewish morality the primitive idea of the “Messiah.” Culturally, the Persians relied heavily on Babylon, like the Assyrians, adopted the cuneiform writing and Aramaic as the international language, despite of its religious morality was profoundly different from the Babylonian  and in some respects similar to the Egyptian, convinced of beyond, tending to monotheism and concerned about the good and evil. Mazdaism preached great devotion to  the concept of justice, a principle also essential for the Egyptian religion, even today we see everywhere, obsessively inscribed in monuments of every epoch, the feather, symbol of the goddess Maat.

The Persian monarchy, unlike the Assyrians immediately understood that to prolong the empire, after the rudeness of the conquest, it was imperative showing generousness with the subject peoples,  Assyrian rulers did understand this too late, so that for the first time in history, the old idea of universal empire that many kings of different countries had tasted only mentally, was on the verge of become real, and though Cyrus died while fighting against the Massagetae queen Tomiris, his successor Cambyses continued in that line.

Amasis, after the failure of the expedition of support to Croesus, he never again engage in war, with the only exception of the occupation of the island of Cyprus, central point of contact with the Phoenician coast and the Hellenic area. Although he served as such, was not exactly a pharaoh, reviled at first by their origins outside the nobility, he did get to win the affections of the population, showing along its prosperous reign, an undoubted political ability.

He abandoned the royal protocol, as did, more of two thousand years before, Shepsheskaf, rejecting the Horus name and the title of “Son of Ra”, although he adopted the “son of Osiris”, to join him to the popular mysticism, distancing himself from the official cult, indeed its very name in the inscriptions goes just preceded by the bee and the reed, ie “king of Upper and Lower Egypt“, with no other normal protocol paraphernalia, emphasizing its independence from the noble class and therefore linking himself  to the interests of citizens.

He married the daughter of King Batto II of Cyrene, the last Greek king, which normalized relations with the colony, after the uncomfortable affair of Apries, also gave an effective solution to the problem of the apparent invasion of Greek merchants in Egypt concentrating them on the colony of Naucratis, fact who benefited both Greeks and Egyptians and to top it off, according to “Demotic Chronicle“, a text of two hundred odd years before the current era, Amasis convened a citizens’ assembly to endorse the reforms to be carried out, where was gestated decommisioning immunity regimes of the temples, yonder was revoked at perpetuity, the infamous right of priests to collect special income tax, thus ending,  democratically, what had begun Psamtik I.

With all that, Amasis insured the peace of his reign,  inasmuch as the political activism of the clergy of Memphis was virtually zero, unlike that of Thebes in the past. The truth is that the Saite dynasty, despite efforts to dispossess the priestly nobility, partly to occupy the unemployed labor force, partly to beat down the reticence of the clergy,  sowed the Delta with great temples and monuments, which we only know by references from classical Greco-Latin authors, because little or nothing has been preserved.

The Lidia’s fall into the hands of Cyrus, meant the flight of immense fortunes
and much of the Ionian fleet, to the comparatively lowly cities from the Attica, wealth  that apparently served in some way to decant the own political infighting that faced the Democratic Party to the oligarchic party throughout the Greek world. In Naxos and Samos, Ligdamis and Polycrates respectively managed, not without blood, establish regimes that should ensured a better distribution of wealth and in Athens itself occurred the same after Pisistratus beat the oligarchic party  in Marathon (this is not the famous battle of which I believe that we have all heard about).

The port of Samos, had significantly increased its relevance to such an extent that only the navy  joint of Polycrates and Amasis, could face the Ionian and Phoenician fleets in the hands of the Persians, but the defection of Polycrates, seduced perhaps for the riches that the Persians promised him, putting to Egypt and Greece in an awkward position, the Persian military power, by land and by sea, now far exceeded the possibilities Egyptian, in fact, the fleet was his only strength, since the Ionian mercenary army, had lost much of its fighting spirit since that Ionia was annexed to the Persian empire.

It may be said that, grew the dwarfs to the circus that Psamtik III had inherited at the death of Amasis. The captain-general of the Egyptian army, Phanes of Halicarnassus, was passed over to the enemy and gave to Cambyses, the details of the defense of Egypt. Later the former chancellor of Amasis, governor of Sais, Udjahorresne converted by Psamtik III in admiral of the fleet, would act the same way that the  Ionian general. With the reports of Phanes , Cambyses stood in front of Pelusium with an impressive army, defeating to the Egyptian troops, after a long and bloody battle. Sais surrendered without resistance, Heliopolis was conquered and the king took refuge in Memphis that was initially refused to capitulate. The city was besieged and finally surrendered but suffered the cruel reprisals with which the Persians used to estimulate the cooperation in the newly conquered countries, Psamtik himself was physically and psychologically tortured and his family murdered . Cambyses later, according the custom opened by Cyrus,  wanted to show himself magnanimous and compensate to Psamtik, proposing him to rule Egypt as a satrap, however Psamtik obviously resentful, attempted to provoke a popular uprising and was eventually executed.

Owner of Egypt, Cambyses did put his eyes on Carthage, but the Tyrian fleet refused to fight against their countrymen, so turned his sight on Greece. Meanwhile, decided to proclaim himself,  Pharaoh, appealing to fictitious blood rights, assumed all royal titles, declaring himself  “Son of Ra” and with the irreplaceable advice of Udjahorresne , despite the many sacrileges in which he had apparently incurred, during the conquest, he sought the support of the priestly party, the old nobility and the wealthier classes, the enemies of Amasis, very interested in recovering their former privileges. At the death of Cambyses, a mede revolt , did put in power to the magician Gaumata, however, an alliance of the seven Persian overlords, the highest organ of power, dethroned the magician in a few months, putting in his place to Darius. This was devoted to give administrative shape to the Persian empire, and organizing it in satrapies establishing communication networks linking the ends as far apart as Susa to Sardis, building some temples in Egypt and ending  to the Neco’s canal that linked the Nile and the Red Sea at Suez, a type of work truly pharaonic, which opened the route to India directly to the cities of Delta, putting them in a commercial position that during centuries had belonged to Babylon and which will mark the beginning of the decline of the millenial Mesopotamian city.

Darius symbolized in the world in those moments, the  power of the absolute monarchy, in fact in Egypt was “the chosen of Amun” and in all subject countries,  he always did support explicitly the oligarchic and traditionalist party, face the growing momentum of democratic ideas, emanated from Egypt and that boiled in full effervescence above all in Athens, from where the echo of its conquests, bounced off all the shores on both sides of the sea,  extinguishing all existing monarchies, with the exception of Cyrene, which were being replaced, in most cases by elected magistrates. Shortly after that the Democratic Party rejected a new attempt of invasion of Athens in the famous battle of Marathon (now yes, this is the famous battle), a seemingly spontaneous, an anonymous popular revolt  throughout Egypt, from which are not known leaders or instigators, for a few months succeeded in expelling the Persians, mainly because Darius would sick and died soon after, indeed the Egypt’s fate was doomed, henceforth new actors will play old roles, but Egypt will not disappear at a stroke, as Hatti, Mittani or Assyria, the decline of this millenial civilization, will be slow and prolonged, as it could not be otherwise.