LIBERATION

With the last ruler of the Seventeenth Dynasty we reach the point the Egyptians did not mind talking about, and so we have a historical text. King Kamose, who may or may not have been the son of Sekenenre, took up the battle standard the latter’s dead hand had dropped. Two great stelae gave Kamose’s account of the war. One of the texts survived in a hieratic copy, which broke off right in the middle of a battle; it was believed by some to be a fictitious literary exercise until fragments of the original stela were found. Twenty years later, excavations at Karnak turned up a second stela that reported Kamose’s successful campaigns and described his triumphant return to Thebes. The discovery caused quite a stir, for this kind of luck does not occur very often in archaeology.

The text begins with the king meeting with his council and holding forth with great passion upon the ignominy of his position:

What use is this strength of mine, when one prince is in Avaris and another in Cush, so that I sit here associated with an Asiatic and a Nubian, each in possession of his slice of this Egypt and I cannot pass by him as far as Memphis!

In texts like these the council members are depicted as timid souls so that their caution may cause the king’s impetuous bravery to shine more strongly. Kamose’s council tried to soothe the king by pointing out that their part of the country was peaceful and prosperous. Why start trouble?

Naturally this excellent advice falls on deaf ears, and Kamose goes forth to battle. When the first text breaks off, the war is going well; Kamose’s advance has been unopposed. Something is missing between the end of one stela and the beginning of the second, for when the sequel starts, Kamose is already approaching the enemy capital, the heavily fortified city of Avaris in the Delta. The Hyksos king had prudently shut himself up in the fortress, and none of Kamose’s taunts and insults could induce him to come out and fight. He was the same Apophis who had sent Sekenenre the Brave that outrageous message about the hippopotami, and he may have suspected that Kamose’s antagonism had a personal as well as a patriotic cause. Kamose devastated the fields and villages around the capital and got so close to the enemy palace that he was able to see the women of the harem looking down from the roof at him and his army. He sent more threatening messages to Apophis via these ladies, but nothing, it seemed, could shame the Hyksos king into taking action. Before long, Kamose found out why.

One day Egyptian soldiers captured a messenger heading south from the besieged city. The dispatch he carried was an urgent appeal for aid to the prince of Cush, or Nubia. The terms of the letter made it clear that the Asiatic and the Nubian were in cahoots; Apophis volunteered to keep Kamose busy until the Cushite army could arrive, whereupon the allies would crush Kamose and divide Egypt between them. The Hyksos king may thus be the first diplomat in history to use an ancient device—how ancient we did not know until this text was deciphered—for he says that Kamose is planning to attack Cush too: “Help me now, or you’ll be next.”

Kamose arranged that the ingenious appeal would never reach Cush, but it doesn’t seem that he was too worried about the Cushite kingdom, perhaps because he had made sure his southern boundary was safe before he took on the Hyksos. Still, he was not in sufficient strength to attack so formidable a fortress as Avaris; he went back to Thebes, where he was met by cheering crowds. He had won the battle, but it was not given to him to win the war. We do not know what cut the courageous prince of Thebes off in his prime; a Hyksos weapon, in some later and unrecorded battle, or one of the diseases to which the ancients were prey? We can be pretty sure that if Kamose had lived he would have taken another crack at Avaris. It was left to his successor, possibly his younger brother, Ahmose, to complete the work he had begun, though a period of at least ten years ensued before Ahmose led his armies northward. He may have been a mere child when Kamose died, his mother serving as regent until he reached his majority.

The later campaigns are recorded by two soldiers who fought under King Ahmose in the concluding years of the War of Liberation. These men were not historians or scribes; in evaluating their stories we must allow for the normal amount of exaggeration in the case of a man who is recounting his exploits for the admiration of posterity and the consideration of the immortal gods. (Like the Greeks, the Egyptians could consider their deities omniscient in theory but quite capable, in practice, of being befooled by a clever man.) Even so, we have the feeling that our two soldiers did not boast extravagantly. There is an air of verisimilitude about their naive claims that is conspicuously lacking in some of the later accounts of military prowess; and while a man might swindle the gods and lie to his descendants it would not be easy to pull the wool over the eyes of a warrior-king like Ahmose. He rewarded the two soldiers liberally for valor, and under succeeding kings they rose to high military rank.

Just to keep the record straight, let us deal with the confusion of names. Both the soldiers were named after the king—Ahmose—and both came from the same town, El Kab. For the sake of clarity we call one of them Ahmose, son of Ebana, and the other Ahmose Pen-Nekhbet. Ahmose son of Ebana was a sailor, later rising to a rank equivalent to that of admiral; the other Ahmose served in the infantry and became a general. Both made a career of the ser vice and saw fighting under the successors of Ahmose the king. Ahmose Pen-Nekhbet—General Ahmose—must have been the younger of the two, for his ser vice under King Ahmose was limited to a campaign in a single Palestinian town. But the other Ahmose was with his king through the whole campaign, and it is from his tomb inscriptions that we learn of King Ahmose’s final success in clearing the land of the Hyksos.

Ahmose the Admiral was a marine rather than a sailor; he speaks of fighting on land and in the water. In his first fight he was so young that he had not yet taken a wife. His father had served under Sekenenre, and it is odd that there is no mention of Kamose, who certainly used the royal marines. Possibly Ahmose the future admiral was too young to go to war immediately after his father died. He soon proved himself; he married and was transferred to the northern fleet, the post of danger—for the king was about to carry out Kamose’s unfinished plan and lay siege to the yet unconquered Hyksos capital. Several battles were required to take the city; in one of them Ahmose the Admiral won himself a hand—an unattractive old Egyptian custom, which is meant to be taken literally; the hand was removed from the body of the dead foe. In later battle reliefs we see great heaps of amputated hands being piled up before the stately figure of pharaoh, and presumably they were used as a tally of the dead as well as a proof of personal valor.

Avaris finally fell; instead of hands, Ahmose the Admiral took a few live bodies, which he was allowed to keep as slaves. Avaris was the last Hyksos stronghold in Egypt, but King Ahmose was not content with driving them out of the country. He wanted to break their power permanently and ensure that they could never return to shame Egypt again. He chased the fleeing Hyksos host to Sharuhen in Palestine, and there fought another great battle, after a siege which, according to Admiral Ahmose, lasted for six long years.

The battle of Sharuhen ended the peril from the north, and excavations at Tell el Dab’a indicated that Ahmose leveled the Hyksos structures before rebuilding the city.

There was still danger from the south—from the Cushite kingdom, which had been allied with the Hyksos. It may be that Kamose had begun the reconquest of Cush, which had been under Egyptian control during the Middle Kingdom; Ahmose finished the job, at least as far as the second cataract. Ahmose the Admiral accompanied his king and “made a great slaughter” among the Nubians. He was well served in those days, for he had taken a total of ten slaves.

The enemies of the south were not crushed in one campaign. Again and again they rose in rebellion. The leader of the last revolt under King Ahmose is specifically named; he was called Teti-en, which we might translate, if we are feeling romantic, as Teti the Handsome. He must have been a particularly annoying opponent, for the Egyptians ordinarily designated their enemies only by opprobrious epithets—That Fallen One, or That Enemy. The magical import is clear; the name was a part of a man’s identity, and to deny him his name was to destroy him in part. Perhaps Admiral Ahmose had a sneaking admiration for “that fallen one, Teti-en,” who was eventually slain by the king. We can spare him a little sympathy too; he was a rebel only because he failed. If he had succeeded, he would have become a liberator, like King Ahmose and General George Washington.

The Hyksos were gone—but not forgotten. They left a mark on the mind of Egypt that would never wholly disappear, and a seed in the body politic that would bear strange fruit in future years. Whether she liked it or not, Egypt was now a military power. Not as yet had the army become the sharp, professional tool it would become a few generations later; but it had gained a lot of practice and several new weapons. The horse may have been known before the Hyksos, but records from that period are the first mention of its use in war; and what an appalling weapon the chariot must have been, with its pounding, snorting steeds, thundering down on a group of unarmored foot soldiers! Each chariot held two men, the warrior and the driver, who also shielded his companion with the long heavy body shield. The compound bow, perhaps another Hyksos contribution, was considerably more powerful than the old simple bow, which the Egyptians had always used.

The Hyksos added a more important and less tangible factor to Egyptian life. “The wretched Asiatic” was no longer a figure of contemptuous fun. No more could the Egyptian feel secure in his green “island,” isolated by sea and sand. The walls had been breached, and never again would Egypt feel the complete superiority she had enjoyed under the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

At least, this is how some scholars interpret the situation. Psychoanalysis of a whole nation is a tricky business, especially when all the members of that nation have been dust for millennia. And it is very hard to find visible signs of a persecution complex during the brilliant centuries that are to follow. Materially the height of Egyptian culture is yet to come. Spiritually and intellectually—that is another question, and a rather complex one.

Ahmose is considered the founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, which begins the New Kingdom (formerly called the Empire) period. He was laid to rest among his ancestors in the Seventeenth Dynasty cemetery at Thebes, of which very little remains. Almost nothing of Ahmose has survived except his mummy, which was found in a great secret cache of royal mummies in the late nineteenth century A.D. It is now in the Luxor Museum.

One of the striking things about the new Theban family of kings is the unusual importance of their women. Ahmose was especially devoted to his womenfolk; not only did he honor his wife and his mother, but he took time out of his many wars to think nostalgically about his grandmother. A stela from Abydos shows Ahmose and his queen sitting in conversation in the great audience chamber; they are speaking of ways in which they may honor the dead. “I have remembered the mother of my mother and the mother of my father,” says the king reflectively, “the great king’s wife and king’s mother, Tetisheri.” Although she already has a tomb and a tomb chapel, Ahmose decides to build her a bigger and better one, “because he so greatly loved her, beyond everything.”

There is a little statue of her in the British Museum, which shows a slender body and a delicate, wistful face framed by the queen’s vulture crown. Unfortunately, it seems to be a fake.

Here’s an example of revisionism, if you like, and I must admit it cut me to the quick. I love that little statue. The evidence is incontrovertible, however, not so much on stylistic grounds as on the brutal fact that chemical analysis of some of the paint proved it is not ancient. I still cling to the hope that the statue we have is a copy of a lost original. At one time there was a base almost identical to the base of Tetisheri’s statue in the French Institute in Cairo. It has vanished, who knows where, so it can’t be inspected, but there is a possibility—nothing stronger—that the French base belonged to the original statue of Tetisheri, which was copied by a particularly talented forger.

As should be painfully apparent to the reader, the genealogies of the period are still being debated. Tetisheri’s royal husband may have been the first Taa, aka Senakhtenre, if there were two of them. If there was only one…Never mind. Tetisheri survived him, whoever he was; she lived to see her daughter Ahhotep marry her full brother, Sekenenre Taa. Her granddaughter, Ahmose-Nefertari, also married her brother, Ahmose. (The period certainly has a plethora of Ahmoses; I have mentioned only a few of them.) Ahmose’s queen was a great lady; in later times she and her son were worshipped as patrons of the workmen’s village of Deir el Medina.

Tetisheri was the ancestress of this line of queens. Several of them were found in the cache of royal mummies discovered in the nineteenth century, and Tetisheri may have been one of those that are not identified. It’s hard to tell what a mummy may have looked like in life, but the remains of the royal women of this period have one outstanding characteristic—a pronounced overbite. It was probably not for beauty or charm that they were remembered so long and honored so highly. Was it for their importance in the inheritance of the throne? The notion of inheritance through the female isn’t accepted nowadays. Perhaps the quality that distinguished the queens and princesses of the early Eighteenth Dynasty was that elusive thing called personality; in the next chapter we will see what happened when Tetisheri’s great-great-granddaughter decided to exert her share of the family character.

These women were the wives of kings and of soldiers; the fragile Tetisheri, while still a young woman, may have seen the mutilated body of her son borne home from the battlefield, and watched from a window of the palace as her grandson(s) marched out to war in their turn. Maybe she egged them on, as did the equally fragile and bloody-minded ladies of the Confederacy. According to a stela found at Karnak, the queen Ahhotep, wife of Sekenenre the Brave, upon one occasion had to rally the troops and put an end to rebellion. This is one of the most tantalizing references in Egyptian history; and we know nothing more about it. Historical novelists, take note.

Ahmose’s son bore a name which the Eighteenth Dynasty was to make famous—Amenhotep. Like the similar dynastic name of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat, it honored the patron god of Thebes. But unlike the Twelfth Dynasty kings, the new rulers did not move their capital to the north. From this time dates the rise of Thebes, whose monuments still awe the visitor.

Ahmose left his son a united Egypt, free for the first time in centuries of foreign interlopers. He also left to him, and to us, his two soldier-namesakes from El Kab. We are grateful for the legacy, since the tomb inscriptions of these men have given us much useful information. General Ahmose and Admiral Ahmose served, in all, six kings of Egypt. Both fought in Nubia under Amenhotep I, in the campaign that regained all the territory formerly held by the Twelfth Dynasty, and perhaps more. “I fought incredibly,” says the admiral modestly. He also rushed the king back to Egypt upon the news of a threatened invasion by the Libyans, a distance of two hundred miles in two days. We can say little more about Amenhotep I; he fought in Nubia, he probably fought in Asia, he built monuments. Then he died.

His successor is a more interesting character, if for no other reason than because he was the father of one of the most fabulous personalities who ever sat upon the throne of Egypt. He was a man of no mean accomplishments in his own right—Thutmose, the first to bear the second famous name of the Eighteenth Dynasty. Apparently he was not related by blood to Amenhotep I. We don’t know why he was selected to wear the Double Crown. One of his wives, Mutnefret, was a king’s daughter, the other—named Ahmes—was not. At least she doesn’t claim that title. So if Amenhotep I died childless, which seems to have been the case, whose daughter was Mutnefret? (This may give you some idea of why there are so many arguments about Egyptian royal genealogies.)

“From the Horns of the Earth to the Marshes of Asia”—such were the boundaries of the empire Thutmose I gained for Egypt. The Asian marshes are the swamps of the Euphrates. It is a grandiose claim, but we have abundant evidence for its accuracy. The tomb autobiographies of the two gentlemen from E1 Kab describe their valor in the Asiatic wars, and Thutmose I’s stela on the banks of the Euphrates was found by his grandson when he came that way. The Horns of the Earth, then, must lie to the south. How far south we cannot be sure. The former boundary at the Second Cataract was passed, and the site of Kerma as well. An inscription of Thutmose I was found even farther south, near the Fifth Cataract. But there are no striking topographic features in this region that could be called horns, if this term means tall hills. Some scholars think Thutmose I got down as far as the site of Meroe, beyond the junction of the Nile with its first tributary, the Atbara. Admiral Ahmose commanded the flotilla that sailed upstream to—wherever it was in Nubia—and acted with his usual amazing bravery. The king’s military exploits in the south were substantial enough to warrant the creation of a great new bureaucratic office, comparable in importance to the vizierate. The prince, or king’s son, of Cush was thereafter the right hand of the king in the region south of Elephantine.

It was a goodly territory, from the far cataracts of the Nile to the Euphrates. The tribute began to pour into Thebes. Thutmose used it to beautify the city and to honor the gods, and also to provide for his good name in the Hereafter. His royal architect, Ineni, is one of the officials who left rich tombs filled with inscriptions boasting of their own prestige. Ineni tells of his work in the great Amon temple at Karnak, and in the desolate valley where Thutmose had ordered his tomb to be built.

The pyramids were impressive and enduring, but it had become evident that they had certain drawbacks as true Houses of Eternity. Thutmose I decided to sacrifice publicity for safety. His tomb was dug out of the rock in a remote valley, far from the river, richly equipped within, but completely hidden from sight. “I supervised the excavation of His Majesty’s tomb,” says Ineni. “I was alone, no one seeing, no one hearing.”

Obviously the aristocratic official did not wield pick and shovel himself, but he was responsible for all the arrangements. He chose a spot some seven miles from the river, on the West Bank; it is now known as the Valley of the Kings. How secret the operation really was is open to doubt. There is no indication that the king had all his workmen executed when the tomb was finished, as some bloodthirsty writers have suggested. Skilled artisans were too valuable to be tossed away. The fact that all the royal tombs in the valley—with one famous exception—were completely stripped of their valuables in antiquity is a good indication that some of the workmen survived. Once the exact location of a tomb was known, it was as good as robbed; the hidden passages and massive barriers bothered the thieves no more than did the similar devices in the pyramids—and small wonder, when we remember the magnitude of their eventual reward.

The king was laid to rest in the tomb which he had built with such high hopes of secrecy. Needless to say, there is some debate as to which one it was. The tombs in the Valley of the Kings are numbered, not in the order of their construction, but following an arbitrary modern system. KV38 was once believed to have been Thutmose I’s original burial place. However, some scholars claim it was a reburial, since its plan seems to be later in date than that of Thutmose I’s grandson. To be continued in the next chapter.

At the end of his life, Thutmose I could view his accomplishments with pride, and the future with few misgivings. His principal wives had borne him several children, one of whom was a daughter named Hatshepsut. By marrying her to her half-brother, Thutmose II, the old king had settled the question of the succession and given Egypt a new Horus to take his place on the throne. The empire was stable; the Two Lands were at peace, prosperous, healthy. If any man could give up his last breath with the consciousness of leaving all his affairs in order, Thutmose I was that man. He had no way of knowing that the next few years would see a strange phenomenon, unparalleled in all the fifteen centuries of history that had gone before.

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