Ancient Egypt (Rawlinson)/The First Great Warrior King, Thothmes I

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Ancient Egypt (Rawlinson) by George Rawlinson
Thothmes I, the First Great Egyptian Conquorer

Thothmes I. was the grandson of the Aahmes who drove out the Hyksôs. He had thus hereditary claims to valour and military distinction. The Ethiopian blood which flowed in his veins through his grandmother, Nefertari-Aahmes, may have given him an additional touch of audacity, and certainly showed itself in his countenance, where the short depressed nose and the unduly thick lips are of the Cushite rather than of the Egyptian type. His father, Amen-hotep I., was a somewhat undistinguished prince; so that here, as so often, where superior talent runs in a family, it seems to have skipped a generation, and to have leapt from the grand-sire to the grandson. Thothmes began his military career by an invasion of the countries upon the Upper Nile, which were still in an unsettled state, notwithstanding the campaigns which had been carried on, and the victories which had been gained in them, during the two preceding reigns, by King Aahmes, and by the generals of Amen-hotep. He placed a flotilla of ships upon the Nile above the Second Cataract, and supporting it with his land forces on either side of the river, advanced from Semneh, the boundary established by Usurtasen III., which is in lat. 21° 50' to Tombos, in lat. 19°, conquering the tribes, Nubian and Cushite, as he proceeded, and from time to time distinguishing himself in personal combats with his enemies. On one occasion, we are told, "his majesty became more furious than a panther," and placing an arrow on his bowstring, directed it against the Nubian chief so surely that it struck him, and remained fixed in his knee, whereupon the chief "fell fainting down before the royal diadem." He was at once seized and made a prisoner; his followers were defeated and dispersed; and he himself, together with others, was carried off on board the royal ship, hanging with his head downwards, to the royal palace at the capital This victory was the precursor of others; everywhere "the Petti of Nubia were hewed in pieces, and scattered all over their lands," till "their stench filled the valleys." At last a general submission was made, and a large-tract of territory was ceded. The Egyptian terminus was pushed on from the twenty-second parallel to the nineteenth, and at Tombos, beyond Dongola, an inscription was set up, at once to mark the new frontier, and to hand down to posterity the glory of the conquering monarch. The inscription still remains, and is couched in inflated terms, which show a departure from the old official style. Thothmes declares that "he has taken tribute from the nations of the North, and from the nations of the South, as well as from those of the whole earth; he has laid hold of the barbarians; he has not let a single one of them escape his gripe upon their hair; the Petti of Nubia have fallen beneath his blows; he has made their waters to flow backwards; he has overflowed their valleys like a deluge, like waters which mount and mount. He has resembled Horus, when he took possession of his eternal kingdom; all the countries included within the circumference of the entire earth are prostrate under his feet." Having effected his conquest, Thothmes sought to secure it by the appointment of a new officer, who was to govern the newly-annexed country under the title of "Prince of Cush," and was to have his ordinary residence at Semneh.

Flushed with his victories in this quarter, and intoxicated with the delight of conquest, Thothmes, on his return to Thebes, raised his thoughts to a still grander and more adventurous enterprize. Egypt had a great wrong to avenge, a huge disgrace to wipe out. She had been Invaded, conquered, plundered, by an enemy whom she had not provoked by any aggression; she had seen her cities laid in ashes, her temples torn down and demolished, the images of her gods broken to pieces, her soil dyed with her children's blood; she had been trampled under the iron heel of the conqueror for centuries; she had been exhausted by the payment of taxes and tribute; she had had to bow the knee, and lick the dust under the conqueror's feet--was not retribution needed for all this? True, she had at last risen up and expelled her enemy, she had driven him beyond her borders, and he seemed content to acquiesce in his defeat, and to trouble her no more; but was this enough? Did not the law of eternal justice require something more:

    "Nec lex justior ulla est,
     Quàm necis artifices arte perire sua."

Was it not proper, fitting, requisite for the honour of Egypt, that there should be retaliation, that the aggressor should suffer what he had inflicted, should be attacked in his own country, should be made to feel the grief, the despair, the rage, the shame, that he had forced Egypt to feel for so many years; should expiate his guilt by a penalty, not only proportioned to the offence, but Its exact counterpart? Such thoughts, we may be sure, burned in the mind of the young warrior, when, having secured Egypt on the south, he turned his attention to the north, and asked himself the question how he should next employ the power that he had inherited, and the talents with which nature had endowed him.

It is uncertain what amount of knowledge the Egyptians of the time possessed concerning the internal condition, population, and resources, of the continent which adjoined them on the north-east. We cannot say whether Thothmes and his counsellors could, or could not, bring before their mind's eye a fairly correct view of the general position of Asiatic affairs, and form a reasonable estimate of the probabilities of success or discomfiture, if a great expedition were led into the heart of Asia. Whatever may have been their knowledge or ignorance, it will be necessary for the historical student of the present day to have some general ideas on the subject, if he is to form an adequate conception either of the dangers which Thothmes affronted, or of the amount of credit due to him for his victories. We propose, therefore, in the present place, to glance our eye over the previous history of Western Asia, and to describe, so far as is possible, its condition at the time when Thothmes began to contemplate the invasion which it is his great glory to have accomplished.

Western Asia is generally allowed to have been the cradle of the human race. Its more fertile portions were thickly peopled at a very early date. Monarchy, it is probable, first grew up in Babylonia, towards the mouths of the Tigris and Euphrates. But it was not long ere a sister kingdom established itself in Susiana, or Elam, the fertile tract between the Lower Tigris and the Zagros mountains. The ambition of conquest first showed itself in this latter country, whence Kudur-Nakhunta, about B.C. 2300, made an attack on Erech, and Chedor-laomer (about B.C. 2000) established an empire which extended from the Zagros mountains on the one hand to the shores of the Mediterranean on the other (Gen. xiv. 1-4) Shortly after this, a third power, that of the Hittites, grew up towards the north, chiefly perhaps in Asia Minor, but with a tendency to project itself southward into the Mesopotamian region. Upper Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine, were at this time inhabited by weak tribes, each under its own chief, with no coherence, and no great military spirit. The chief of these tribes, at the time when Thothmes I. ascended the Egyptian throne, were the Rutennu in Syria, and the Nahari or Naïri in Upper Mesopotamia. The two monarchies of the south, Elam and Babylon were not in a flourishing condition, and exercised no suzerainty beyond their own natural limits. They were, in fact, a check upon each other, constantly engaged in feuds and quarrels, which prevented either from maintaining an extended sway for more than a few years, Assyria had not yet acquired any great distinction, though it was probably independent, and ruled by monarchs who dwelt at Asshur (Kileh-Sherghat). The Hittites, about B.C. 1900, had received a severe check from the Babylonian monarch, Sargon, and had withdrawn themselves into their northern fortresses. Thus the circumstances of the time were, on the whole, favourable to the enterprize of Thothmes. No great organized monarchy was likely to take the field against him, or to regard itself as concerned to interfere with the execution of his projects, unless they assumed extraordinary dimensions. So long as he did not proceed further north than Taurus, or further east than the western Khabour, the great affluent of the Euphrates, he would come into contact with none of the "great powers" of the time; he would have, at the worst, to contend with loose confederacies of tribes, distrustful of each other, unaccustomed to act together, and, though brave, possessing no discipline or settled military organization. At the same time, his adversaries must not be regarded as altogether contemptible. The Philistines and Canaanites in Palestine, the Arabs of the Sinaitic and Syrian deserts, the Rutennu of the Lebanon and of Upper Syria, the Naïri of the western Mesopotamian region, were individually brave men, were inured to warfare, had a strong love of independence, and were likely to resist with energy any attempt to bring them under subjection. They were also, most of them, well acquainted with the value of the horse for military service, and could bring into the field a number of war-chariots, with riders well accustomed to their management Egypt had only recently added the horse to the list of its domesticated animals, and followed the example of the Asiatics by organizing a chariot force. It was open to doubt whether this new and almost untried corps would be able to cope with the experienced chariot-troops of Asia.

The country also in which military operations were to be carried on was a difficult one. It consisted mainly of alternate mountain and desert. First, the sandy waste called El Tij--the "Wilderness of the Wanderings"--had to be passed, a tract almost wholly without water, where an army must carry Its own supply. Next, the high upland of the Negeb would present itself, a region wherein water may be procured from wells, and which in some periods of the world's history has been highly cultivated, but which in the time of Thothmes was probably almost as unproductive as the desert itself. Then would come the green rounded hills, the lofty ridges, and the deep gorges of Palestine, untraversed by any road, in places thickly wooded, and offering continually greater obstacles to the advance of an army, as it stretched further and further towards the north. From Palestine the Lebanon region would have to be entered on, where, though the Cœle-Syrian valley presents a comparatively easy line of march to the latitude of Antioch, the country on either side of the valley is almost untraversable, while the valley itself contains many points where it can be easily blocked by a small force. The Orontes, moreover, and the Litany, are difficult to cross, and in the time of Thothmes I. would be unbridged, and form no contemptible obstacles. From the lower valley of the Orontes, first mountains and then a chalky desert had to be crossed in order to reach the Euphrates, which could only be passed in boats, or else by swimming. Beyond the Euphrates was another dreary and infertile region, the tract about Haran, where Crassus lost his army and his life.

How far Thothmes and his counsellors were aware of these topographical difficulties, or of the general condition of Western Asia, it is, as already observed, impossible to determine. But, on the whole, there are reasons for believing that intercourse between nation and nation was, even in very early times, kept up, and that each important country had its "intelligence department," which was not badly served. Merchants, refugees, spies, adventurers desirous of bettering their condition, were continually moving, singly or in bodies, from one land to another, and through them a considerable acquaintance with mundane affairs generally was spread abroad. The knowledge was, of course, very inexact. No surveys were made, no plans of cities or fortresses, no maps; the military force that could be brought into the field by the several nations was very roughly estimated; but still, ancient conquerors did not start off on their expeditions wholly in the dark as to the forces which they might have to encounter, or the difficulties which were likely to beset their march.

Thothmes probably set out on his expedition into Asia in about his sixth or seventh year. He was accompanied by two officers, who had served his father and his grandfather, known respectively as "Aahmes, son of Abana," and "Aahmes Pennishem." Both of them had been engaged in the war which he had conducted against the Petti of Nubia and their Ethiopian allies, and both had greatly distinguished themselves. Aahmes, the son of Abana, boasts that he seven times received the prize of valour--a collar of gold--for his conduct in the field; and Aahmes Pennishem gives a list of twenty-nine presents given to him as military rewards by three kings. It does not appear that any resistance was offered to the invading force as it passed through Palestine; but in Syria Thothmes engaged the Rutennu, and "exacted satisfaction" from them, probably on account of the part which they had taken in the Hyksôs struggle; after which he crossed the Euphrates and fell upon the far more powerful nation of the Naïri. The Naïri, when first attacked by the Assyrians, had twenty-three cities, and as many kings; they were rich in horses and mules, and had so large a chariot force that we hear of a hundred and twenty chariots being taken from them in a single battle. At this time the number of the chariots was probably much smaller, for each of the two officers named Ahmes takes great credit to himself on account of the capture of one such vehicle. It is uncertain whether more than a single battle was fought. All that we are told is, that "His Majesty, having arrived in Naharina" (i.e. the Naïri country), "encountered the enemy, and organized an attack. His Majesty made a great slaughter of them; an immense number of live captives was carried off by His Majesty." These words would apply equally to a single battle and to a series of battles. All that can be said is, that Thothmes returned victorious from his Asiatic expedition, having defeated the Rutennu and the Naïri, and brought with him into Egypt a goodly booty, and a vast number of Asiatic prisoners.

The warlike ambition of Thothmes I. was satisfied by his Nubian and Asiatic victories. On his return to Egypt at the close of his Mesopotamian campaign, he engaged in the peaceful work of adorning and beautifying his capital cities. At Thebes he greatly enlarged the temple of Ammon, begun by Amenemhat I., and continued under his son, the first Usurtasen, by adding to it the cloistered court in front of the central cell--a court two hundred and forty feet long by sixty-two broad, surrounded by a colonnade, of which the supports were Osirid pillars, or square piers with a statue of Osiris in front. This is the first known example of the cloistered court, which became afterwards so common; though it is possible that constructions of a similar character may have been made by the "Shepherd Kings" at Tanis, Thothmes also adorned this temple with obelisks. In front of the main entrance to his court he erected two vast monoliths of granite, each of them seventy-five feet in height, and bearing dedicatory inscriptions, which indicated his piety and his devotion to all the chief deities of Egypt.

Further, at Memphis he built a new royal palace, which he called "The Abode of Aa-khepr-ka-ra," a grand building, afterwards converted into a magazine for the storage of grain.

The greatness of Thothmes I. has scarcely been sufficiently recognized by historians. It may be true that he did not effect much; but he broke ground in a new direction; he set an example which led on to grand results. To him it was due that Egypt ceased to be the isolated, unaggressive power that she had remained for perhaps ten centuries, that she came boldly to the front and aspired to bring Asia into subjection. Henceforth she exercised a potent influence beyond her borders--an influence which affected, more or less, all the western Asiatic powers. She had forced her way into the comity of the great nations. Henceforth whether it was for good or for evil, she had to take her place among them, to reckon with them, as they reckoned with her, to be a factor in the problem which the ages had to work out--What should be the general march of events, and what states and nations should most affect the destiny of the world.