Ancient Egypt (Rawlinson)/Nectanebo I

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Ancient Egypt (Rawlinson) by George Rawlinson
A Last Gleam of Sunshine--Nectanebo I

A troubled time followed the reign of Nefaa-rut. The Greek mercenary soldiery, on whom the monarchs depended, were fickle in their temperament, and easily took offence, if their inclinations were in any way thwarted. Their displeasure commonly led to the dethronement of the king who had provoked it; and we have thus, at this period of the history, five reigns in twenty-five years. No monarch had time to distinguish himself by a re-organization of the kingdom, or even by undertaking buildings on a large scale--each was forced to live from hand to mouth, meeting as he best might the immediate difficulties of his position, without providing for a future, which he might never live to see. Fear of re-conquest was also perpetual; and the monarchs had therefore constantly to be courting alliances with foreign states, and subjecting themselves thereby to risks which it might have been more prudent to have avoided.

With the accession of Nectanebo I. (Nekht-Horheb), about B.C. 385, an improvement in the state of affairs set in. Nekht-hor-heb was a vigorous prince, who held the mercenaries well under control, and, having raised a considerable Egyptian army, set himself to place Egypt in such a state of defence, that she might confidently rely on her own strength, and be under no need of entangling herself with foreign alliances. He strongly fortified all the seven mouths of the Nile, guarding each by two forts, one on either side of each stream, and establishing a connection between each pair of forts by a bridge. At Pelusium, where the danger of hostile attack was always the greatest, he multiplied his precautions, guarding it on the side of the east by a deep ditch, and carefully obstructing all the approaches to the town, whether by land or sea, by forts and dykes and embankments, and contrivances for laying the neighbouring territory under water. No doubt these precautions were taken with special reference to an expected attack on the part of Persia, which was preparing, about B.C. 376, to make a great effort to bring Egypt once more into subjection.

The expected attack came in the next year. Having obtained the services of the Athenian general, Iphicrates, and hired Greek mercenaries to the number of twenty thousand, Artaxerxes Mnemon, in B.C. 375, sent a huge armament against Egypt, consisting of 220,000 men, 500 ships of war, and a countless number of other vessels carrying stores and provisions. Pharnabazus commanded the Persian soldiery, Iphicrates the mercenaries. Having rendezvoused at Acre in the spring of the year, they set out early in the summer, and proceeded in a leisurely manner through Philistia and the desert, the fleet accompanying them along the coast. This route brought them to Pelusium, which they found so strongly fortified that they despaired of being able to force the defences and felt it necessary to make a complete change in their plan of attack. Putting to sea with a portion of the fleet, and with troops to the number of three thousand, and sailing northward till they could no longer be seen from the shore, they then, probably at nightfall, changed their course, and steering south-west, made for the Mendesian mouth of the Nile, which was only guarded by the twin forts with their connecting bridge. Here they landed without opposition, and proceeded to reconnoitre the forts. The garrison gave them battle outside the walls, but was defeated with great loss; and the forts themselves were taken. The remainder of the force conveyed by the ships, was then landed without difficulty; and the invaders, having the complete mastery of one of the Nile mouths, had it in their power to direct their attack to any point that might seem to them at once most important and most vulnerable.

Under these circumstances the Athenian general, Iphicrates, strongly recommended a dash at Memphis. The main strength of the Egyptian army had been concentrated at Pelusium. Strong detachments held the other mouths of the Nile. Memphis, he felt sure, must be denuded of troops, and could probably be carried by a coup de main; but the advice of the rapid Greek was little to the taste of the slow-moving and cautious Persian. Pharnabazus declined to sanction any rash enterprise--he would proceed according to the rules of art. He had the advantage of numbers--why was he to throw it away? No, a thousand times no. He would wait till his army was once more collected together, and would then march on Memphis, without exposing himself or his troops to any danger. The city would be sure to fall, and the object of the expedition would be accomplished. In vain did Iphicrates offer to run the whole risk himself--to take no troops with him besides his own mercenaries, and attack the city with them. As the Greek grew more hot and reckless, the Persian became more cool and wary. What might not be behind this foolhardiness? Might it not be possible that the Greek was looking to his own interests, and designing, if he got possession of Memphis, to set himself up as king of Egypt? There was no knowing what his intention might be; and at any rate it was safest to wait the arrival of the troops. So Pharnabazus once more coolly declined his subordinate's offer.

Nectanebo, on his side, having thrown a strong garrison into Memphis, moved his army across the Delta from the Pelusiac to the Mendesian branch of the Nile, and having concentrated it in the neighbourhood of the captured forts, proceeded to operate against the invaders. His troops harassed the enemy in a number of petty engagements, and in the course of time inflicted on them considerable loss. In this way midsummer was reached--the Etesian winds began to blow, and the Nile to rise. Gradually the abounding stream spread itself over the broad Delta; roads were overflowed, river-courses obliterated; the season for military operations was clearly past. There was no possible course but to return to Asia. Iphicrates and Pharnabazus took their departure amid mutual recriminations, each accusing the other of having caused the expedition to be a complete failure.

The repulse of this huge host was felt by the Egyptians almost as the repulse of the host of Xerxes was felt by the Greeks. Nectanebo was looked upon as a hero and a demigod; his throne was assured; it was felt that he had redeemed all the failures of the past, and had restored Egypt to the full possession of all her ancient dignity and glory. Nectanebo continued to rule over "the Two Lands" for nine years longer in uninterrupted peace, honour, and prosperity. During this time he applied himself, with considerable success, to the revival of Egyptian art and architecture. At Thebes he made additions to the great temple of Karnak, restored the temple of Khonsu, and adorned with reliefs a shrine originally erected by Ramesses XII. At Memphis he was extraordinarily active: he built a small temple in the neighbourhood of the Serapeum, set up inscriptions in the Apis repository in honour of the sacred bulls, erected two small obelisks in black granite, and left his name inscribed more than once in the quarries of Toora. Traces of his activity are also found at Edfu, at Abydos, at Bubastis, at Rosetta in the Delta, and at Tel-el-Maskoutah. The art of his time is said to have all the elegance of that produced under the twenty-sixth (Psamatik) dynasty, but to have been somewhat more florid. The two black obelisks above-mentioned, which are now in the British Museum, show the admirable finish which prevailed at this period. The sarcophagus which Nectanebo prepared for himself, which adorns the same collection, is also of great beauty.

We cannot be surprised to find that Nectanebo was worshipped after his death as a divine being. A priesthood was constituted in his honour, which handed down his cult to later times, and bore witness to the impression made on the Egyptian mind by his character and his successes.