Page:The Periplus of the Erythræan Sea.djvu/67

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The early Kingdom of Egypt comprised the Nile delta and the fertile valley of the river as far as the 1st cataract, the modern Assuan. Here a narrow gorge made the stream impassible for boats, and formed a natural barrier. Above Assuan the desert hugs the river close until above the 5th cataract, when it gives place to open fertile country. Between the island of Elephantine and Assuan, and the site of Meroe, the distance is about 480 miles in a direct line, and by the river about 1000 miles. This narrow strip of river-bed was Nubia proper. The Atbara, flowing into the Nile some 40 miles below Meroe, rises in northern Abyssinia or Tigre; at Khartum, about 150 miles above Meroe, the river branches again; the Blue Nile flowing down from the mountains of Central Abyssinia or Amhara, and the White Nile from the Nyanza lakes. These regions were more or less subject to Nubia at different periods, but their population varied greatly. The Abyssinian highlands were peopled by a Hamitic stock originally related to the Egyptians as well as to the still uncivilized tribes of the eastern and western desert, but with a mixture of negro blood and a strong strain of Arabian origin. The upper reaches of the Nile were peopled by various negro tribes, entirely distinct from Egyptian or Berber|Of course, none of this now seems to be correct. From the mouth of the Red Sea there was a regular trade-route across the Tigre highlands to the Atbara River and so to the Nile; and other routes reached Meroe from the Sudan and Uganda. Thence the products of trade found their way down-stream to Elephantine, beyond which no negro was permitted to go. Here was the market for all Egypt, and the modern town, Assuan, repeats its history, as the very name means "market." From the Sudan came gold, ebony and ivory, panther skins and ostrich feathers; from the Nubian desert east of the Nile, gold; from the Red Sea across the Tigre, myrrh, frankincense, and various fragrant woods and resins: all of which were in constant demand for the Egyptian treasury and the service of the temples, and provided a constant reason for Egyptian control of this important avenue of commerce.

In the early period of the Egyptian nation the power centered in the Delta, but a loose control seems to have been maintained between the 1st and 2d cataracts over tribes appearing in the inscriptions as "Wa-wat," probably negroes. During the prosperous period of the Old Kingdom, between the 30th and 25th centuries B. C., the river-routes were kept in order, and Egyptian ships sailed the Red Sea as far as the myrrh-country. Then came a period of disorder and the fall of the Delta dynasties, followed in the 22d century by the rise of the Theban or Middle Kingdom, the dynasties of the Amenemhets and Sesostrises. These kings fully conquered the river tribes to the