CHAPTER XII (pages 163 - 185) of RESEARCHES IN SINAI
by W. M. FLINDERS PETRIE
THE REVISION OF CHRONOLOGY
«p.163:» THE work at Sinai has brought to light one monument of chronological importance, and has called attention to another such record; and as no account of the present knowledge of Egyptian chronology is generally available, it seems well to give here an outline of the materials before us, the mode of applying them to the question, and the main results for the history of Egypt. As this is a subject which involves some things not commonly known, it is but natural that many people — even of those acquainted with Egyptian matters — should set it aside as being too intricate or too uncertain to be profitably considered. Yet every one has some interest in the whole question of whether Menes founded the kingdom of all Egypt five thousand years before Herodotos, or at only half that distance of time; and any one who has to deal at all with history requires some workable series of dates for reference. Though some details are intricate, and have never yet been properly worked out by astronomers, yet the main facts of the scale of the whole time are very simple, and easily followed by any reader of this volume. It is desirable to put an end to the blind negation with which almost every one treats the subject as at present authors and curators of museums throw themselves entirely upon some of the most uncritical and obsolete guides. Where I here give facts or conclusions without reservation, they are matters generally accepted and undisputed; where there is a «p.164:» difference of opinion worth any notice it is stated, with the reasons on both sides. To save needless complication I shall here describe all celestial movements as they appear to us, and appeared to the Egyptians; the purely astronomical reality is a theoretical view which we need not touch here.
We are all familiar with leap year, when we put an extra day in the calendar to keep the account true. The whole checking of the chronology rests on the unquestioned fact that the Egyptians ignored leap year, and counted only 365 days. There have been defects in every calendar, simply because the motions of the earth have no exact relation to each other, or to those of the moon. The Muhammadan calendar falls short eleven days each year, by taking twelve lunar months as the year, which only amount to 354½ days. Thus the whole Arab months shift round the seasons in about thirty years. Another instance is the imperfect Old Style calendar of Russia at present, which has shifted thirteen days, so that (if continued) the months would shift round all the seasons in about 50,000 years. Now the Egyptian slipped his months backward a quarter of a day each year, by not keeping up the enumeration as we do with a 29th of February. As the months thus slipped backward, or the seasons appeared to slip forward in the calendar, in 1,460 years the months shifted round all the seasons. Strictly the year does not contain exactly an odd quarter of a day, but .242; so that the rotation of the months would take place in 1,500 years. But as the earth's rotation is slackening, the fraction was exactly a quarter of a day within historic times; and we may then call it so, as the Egyptians did. The authority for this is Censorinus, writing in 239 A.D. that "the Egyptian civil year has only 365 days, without any intercalary day, whence the quadrennium so adjusts itself that in the 1,461st year the revolution is completed."
In order to observe the seasons exactly, the mere «p.165:» changes of heat or of growth are too vague; and the Egyptians saw that some connection between the sun and the stars should be noted. As they had no exact timekeeper they could not compare the sun by day and the stars by night; so they adopted the first appearance of a star in the glow of sunrise. But this was necessarily rather vague, and they might even err two or three days in observing it. The shift of the stars in relation to the sun is about two diameters of the sun each day. For their star of observation they took Sirius, the brightest of all the stars, otherwise called Sothis, Canicula, or the Dog Star. As Censorinus says: "The beginnings of these years are always reckoned from the first day of that month which is called by the Egyptians Thoth, which happened this year [239 A.D.] upon the 7th of the kalends of July [June 25th]; for a hundred years ago from the present year [i.e. 139 A.D.] the same fell upon the 12th of the kalends of August [July 21st], on which day Canicula [Sirius] regularly rises in Egypt."
Thus the new year's day of the months — the 1st of Thoth — coincided in 139 A.D. with the fixed astronomical feature of the rising of Sirius in the dawn just before the sun, which was on July 21st. This, of course, differed by a day or two in different parts of Egypt. From this it follows that the months of the shifting calendar, and of our fixed calendar, agreed as follows:
«p.166:» The shift at intervals of four months is given here, from which it is easy to reckon for intermediate times in proportion.
Now in going backward the first great datum that we meet is that on the back of the medical Ebers papyrus, where it is stated that Sirius rose on the 9th of Epiphi in the 9th year of Amenhotep I. As the 9th of Epiphi is 56 days before the 1st of Thoth, Sirius rose on that day at 4 X 56 years (224) before the dates at the head of the first column. As only 1322 B.C. can be the epoch here, so 1322 + 224 = 1546 B.C. for the 9th year of Amenhotep I, or 1554 B.C. for his accession. And as Aahmes I reigned 25 years, we reach 1579 B.C. for the accession of Aahmes and the beginning of the XVIIIth dynasty. This is not defined within a few years (1) owing to four years being the equivalent of only one day's shift; (2) owing to the rising being perhaps observed in a different part of Egypt at different times; (3) owing to various minor astronomical details. But this gives us 1580 B.C. as the approximate date for the great epoch of the rise of the XVIIIth dynasty.
Before that we next find another Sirius rising and two seasonal dates in the XIIth dynasty, and an indication of a season in the VIth dynasty.
The most exact of these early dates is a rising of Sirius on the 17th of Pharmuthi in the 7th year of Senusert III, on a papyrus from Kahun. This is now in Berlin, and was published by BORCHARDT in Zeits. Aeg. Spr., xxxvii, 99-101. This shows that the 17th of Pharmuthi then fell on July 21st, which gives the 7th year of Senusert III at 1874 or 3334 B.C. As he reigned probably to his 38th year, he died 1843 or 3303 B.C. Amenemhat III reigned 44 years by his monuments, Amenemhat IV 9 years, and Sebekneferu 4 years by the Turin papyrus; these reigns bring the close of the XIIth dynasty to 1786 or 3246 B.C. We have, then, to decide by the internal evidence of the monuments of «p.167:» the kings which of these dates is probable, by seeing whether the interval of the XIIIth to XVIIth dynasties was 1,786 - 1,580 = 206 years, or else 1,666 years. This question has been merely ignored hitherto, and it has been assumed by all the Berlin school that the later date is the only one possible, and that the interval was only 206 years.
Setting aside altogether for the present the details of the list of Manetho, let us look only to the monuments, and the Turin papyrus of kings, which was written with full materials concerning this age, with a long list of kings, and only two or three centuries later than the period in question. On the monuments we have the names of 17 kings of the XIIIth dynasty. In the Turin papyrus there are the lengths of reigns of 9 kings, amounting to 67 years, or 7 years each on an average. If we apply this average length of reign to only the 17 kings whose reigns are proved by monuments, we must allow them 120 years; leaving out of account entirely about 40 kings in the Turin papyrus, as being not yet known on monuments. Of the Hyksos kings we know of the monuments of three certainly; and without here adopting the long reigns stated by Manetho, we must yet allow at least 30 years for these kings. And in the XVIIth dynasty there are at least the reigns of Kames and Sekhent.neb.ra, which cover probably 10 years. Hence for those kings whose actual contemporary monuments are known there is required:
XIIIth dynasty 120 years Hyksos at least 30 years XVIIth dynasty 10 years 160 years
This leaves us but 46 years, out of the 206 years, to contain 120 kings named by the Turin papyrus, and all the Hyksos conquest and domination, excepting 30 years named above.
«p.168:» This is apparently an impossible state of affairs; and those who advocate this shorter interval are even compelled to throw over the Turin papyrus altogether, and to say that within two or three centuries of the events an entirely false account of the period was adopted as the state history of the Egyptians.
This difficulty has been so great that many scholars in Germany, and every one in the rest of Europe, have declined to accept this view. If, however, the Sirius datum is to be respected, we should be obliged to allow either 206 or else 1,666 years between the XIIth and XVIIIth dynasties. As neither of these seemed probable courses, it has been thought that the Sirius datum itself was possibly in error, and here the matter has rested awaiting fresh evidence.
At this point two Sinai monuments come in with decisive proofs that the Sirius datum is quite correct.
Some of the mining records on the steles have months named on them, and a few have the day named. Let us look first at those of the XVIIIth and XIXth dynasties, of which the dates are known within a few years. These are:- (1) Of Amenhotep III, 36th year, Mekhir 19th; this was in 1379 B.C., when Mekhir 9th fell on January 19th. (2) Of Ramessu II, 3rd year, Phamenoth, day not stated; this was in 1298 B.C., when Phamenoth was from January 12th to February 11th — say January 26th for a middle date. (3) Of Ramessu IV, 5th year, Pauni 1st; this was in 1166 B.C., when Pauni 1st was March 9th. (4) Of Ramessu IV (?), 4th year, Pauni, day not stated; this was 1167 B.C., when Pauni was from March 9th to April 8th — say March 24th for a middle date. (5) Probably of Tahutmes III, judging by the style and work of the stele, 9th year, Phamenoth 6th; this was in 1494 B.C., when Phamenoth 26th was on March 26th. (6) Of Ramessu II (?), 3rd year, Epiphi, the day not stated; this was in 1298 B.C., when Epiphi was from May 12th to June 11th — say May 27th for a «p.169:» middle date. Putting all these together, we find the dates to be:
(1) Amenhotep III January 19th. (2) Ramessu II January 26th ± 15 days. (3) Ramessu IV March 9th. (4) Ramessu IV (?) March 24th ± 15 days. (5) Tahutmes III (?) March 26th. (6) Ramessu II (?) May 27th ± 15 days.
The season for carving records was, then, from the middle of January to the middle of May, but generally not later than March. This just accords with our experience of the climate. In January the weather is cold, but good for active work; by April the heat begins; in May it is almost unbearable in the valleys. The autumn is not so suitable, as the scanty plants would be dried up or dead; whereas in March the natives live largely on the milk of their sheep and goats, which manage to find some green food after the winter rains.
Having thus found that the mining season was just that time which is known now to be most suitable for work, we are able to make use of two critical records. On a fragment of a stele of Amenemhat III which we found, is a date much weathered. This occurs in the middle of an account of the work, and is not the headdate of the stele. It gives the season, Aakhet, and has two strokes under the moon sign, but one of these is in the middle, showing there have been three. This gives then Hat.hor, the 3rd month of Aakhet. There is the number 12 before it, possibly the 12th year, but from its small size probably the 12th day. That is so near the middle of the month that we may as well adopt it as the day, with the reservation that the date might be about a fortnight either way. The season of mining with which this should agree, is from the middle of January to the end of March; and the 12th of Hat.hor fell at these times between 1746 and 2090 B.C., or between 3206 and «p.170:» 3550 B.C. This agrees with the Sirius rising, which gives about 1840 or 3300 for this reign.
The other monument is less precise, but more unquestionable in its meaning. In a record of the reign of Amenemhat III, the chief of the expedition, Hor.ur.ra, relates how he came to Serabít in hot weather, when work seemed almost impossible; yet by the favour of Hat.hor he obtained a great quantity of turquoise. He fortunately states that he arrived in Phamenoth, and left in Pakhons. Now this hot weather must have been late in the spring. At the close of summer a little delay would have given good conditions; but a delayed expedition in the spring, caught by an early summer, would be the probable conditions. The heat, according to our feelings, begins late in April; to an Egyptian it probably would begin in May. It seems, then, that Phamenoth fell in May, and Pakhons in July, within an uncertainty of a month either way, as we do not know whether the season were early or late, or in what part of Phamenoth or of Pakhons they travelled. Now this correspondence was in 1754 and in 3194 B.C., with an uncertainty of 120 years either way, or i87O to 1630 and 3310 to 3070 B.C. This, again, agrees to the Sirius date within the uncertainties, as by that Amenemhat III reigned 1843 to 1799 B.C., or 3303 to 3259 B.C.
These two new data in the subject make it certain, therefore, that the Sirius dating in the XIIth dynasty is correct, and not liable to some misinterpretation.
We now have to face this large question, which of these two cycles of the 1,460-year period — the earlier or the later — is to be accepted? We have shown that there seems to be no possibility of the later period being true, as that leaves only 46 years free for all the large number of unknown kings of the XIIIth to the XVIIth dynasties. Yet, on the other hand, we may shrink from the idea that there was as much as 1,500 years in this interval.
There is one professed clue to settle the matter — the «p.171:» History of Manetho. This work was in its original form an authority of the highest order. Compiled under the active patron of learnin — Ptolemy Philadelphos — and very possibly for the great library which he created, and written by an Egyptian priest who knew how to use all the documents that had come down to his day, it has the strongest external claims to belief. We know how thorough and systematic the Egyptian records were from even the fragments left to our own times: the chronicle of all the years and reigns of the first five dynasties is unmatched in any country, and the fragment of it at Palermo shows how early a systematic record existed; while the later Turin papyrus of the XVIIIth dynasty, or before, giving the length of reign of every king, with summations at intervals, shows how the same taste for precise reckoning was kept up in later times. It was, then, to complete copies of such works that Manetho could refer when constructing his history for the Greek world.
The internal evidence is also strong for the care given to his work and its precision. That Manetho and the Turin papyrus of the XVIIIth dynasty drew from the same sources may be traced even in their fragments which we know. The Turin papyrus gives 1,755 years for the Ist to VIth dynasties, and Manetho gives 544 years for the VIIth to XIth dynasties, making 2,299 years in all; while Manetho states 2,300 years as the total to the end of the XIth dynasty. Hence he had exactly the same total for the Ist to VIth dynasties as we find given more than a thousand years before in the Turin papyrus.
Manetho has been often accused of double reckoning, by stating two contemporary dynasties or kings separately. Every instance in which this has been supposed has broken down when examined in detail. Not a single case of overlapping periods can be proved against him. On the contrary, there are two excellent proofs of his care to avoid such errors. The XIth dynasty we know by the monuments to have covered at least one century, «p.172:» and probably two. Yet Manetho only gives 43 years, evidently because he reckoned the Xth dynasty as legitimate, and until that ended he did not count the XIth dynasty, which was partly contemporary. Again, in the case of a single reign, we find the same treatment. It is well known that Taharqa was reigning about 29 years before the accession of Psametek I. Manetho places three ancestors of Psametek before him, reigning 21 years in all. Here, it has been said, is a clear case of double reckoning of overlapping reigns. But just here is Manetho's care shown, for he cuts down the well-known reign of Taharqa to 8 or 18 years, according to different readings; and this 8 years, with the 21 of the three other kings, makes the 29 years of Taharqa. In fact, he has only counted Taharqa until he takes up what he regards as the legitimate line, and thus he ignores the 21 years of the reign which overlapped those of the other kings.
Of course, there have been many corruptions and false readings in details, and we only have the scanty outlines given by Julius Africanus (221 A.D.), Eusebius (326 A.D.), and George Syncellus (792 A.D.). But the minor errors do not at all justify an entire rejection of what was obviously the general sum and extent of the history. There may also be varying statements about many dates in general history, but that does not justify us in rejecting them all, and taking something entirely different to any of the statements that we have.
Starting from the well-fixed point of 1580 B.C. for the beginning of the XVIIIth dynasty, let us take Manetho, as best represented by his earliest synoptist, Julius Africanus. His statements give:
Dynasty Years B.C. 3170 XIII 453 2717 XIV 184 2533 XV 284 2249 XVI 518 1731 XVII 151 1580 XVIII
«p.173:» There is a check on this total in another way. Manetho states that the total from the XIIIth to the XIXth dynasties, inclusive, was 2,121 years. His statement that the XVIIIth dynasty lasted 263 years is very nearly true, but in his XIXth dynasty an error arose by duplicating the long reign of Ramessu II, and stating the whole as 209 years, while it is truly 120 years. These deducted from 2,121 years give his period from XIIIth-XVIIth dynasties as 1,649 or 1,738 years. For this interval, then, from the end of the XIIth to the beginning of the XVIIIth dynasties, we have by —
Sirius' risings 206 or 1,666 years; Manetho's separate dynasties 1,590 years; Manetho's total 1,649 years,
or 1,738 years
The agreement of Manetho here with the longer interval and the earlier Sirius dating is as close as these errors of transmission allow us to expect. Its evidence for the early date is conclusive. On the one hand, if we accept the shorter period, both Manetho and the Turin papyrus have to be rejected — that is to say, nearly all the consecutive historical documents that we possess. If, on the other hand, we accept the longer period, there is nothing whatever against it but a prejudice, and it accords closely with Manetho and agrees with all that remains of the Turin papyrus.
When we also look outside of Egypt, some evidence of weight is found in Crete. Dr. Arthur Evans has strongly stated that the shorter interval is impossible in view of the long periods indicated in Cretan civilisation between the XIIth and XVIIIth dynasties.
From this point let us go back a stage earlier. We have reached the end of the XIIth dynasty at 3246 B.C. It lasted for 213 years, according to the Turin papyrus, and therefore began in 3459 B.C. From that to the close of the VIth dynasty is 544 years in Manetho, and «p.174:» 545 years by the difference between 1,755 years which the Turin papyrus gives for the close of the VIth, and the 2,300 years which Manetho gives for the close of the XIth dynasty. Hence the close of the VIth dynasty is 4003 B.C.; and therefore, the reign of Merenra will be at 4111 to 4115 B.C. Now it is in this reign that we have the statement that Una built a boat in 17 days of the month of Epiphi, to bring down alabaster from the quarry of Hat-nub; but he did not succeed in getting the block down in time before the Nile fell too low, and the sand banks appeared (PETRIE, Hist. Eg., i, 95). The month of this lowness of the Nile may be taken as the end of Epiphi or early in Mesore, say Mesore 5th as a likely average. Now in 4111 B.C. that fell on May 19th. This agrees with the well-known difficulty of getting heavy boats down at the beginning of May or later; I have often had to hire two small boats in April, rather than one big one, in order to get a cargo down the Nile safely at that time. I had supposed that this datum referred to the fall of the Nile at the close of the inundation; but such is impossible in view of our more recent information, and we see that this really referred to the final close of heavy navigation for the year.
Earlier than this we have only one record to check the dead reckoning by consecutive dynasties. The great tablet of Pepy I at Magháreh (now destroyed) was dated in his 37th year, Mesore 6th. The actual date is the year after the 18th biennial cattle census, which must be the 36th or 37th year. As this year is 4131 B.C. according to what we have seen above, this date corresponds to May 24th. This is late in the season, but there is a yet later stele of May 27th at Serabít. So far as the rather vague indications of these last two seasonal events guide us, the Merenra low Nile shows that the season could not be much earlier, and the Pepy tablet shows that it could not be much later. Hence «p.175:» these together well confirm the dating we have reached above.
For the extent of the first six dynasties there is only the authority of the Turin papyrus and of Manetho, without any monumental check on the total amount. As, however, we know of the actual remains of 35 Out of the 51 kings recorded, it is only reasonable to accept those lists as substantially accurate. The total of the reigns in Manetho is 1,497 years, the total of the dynastic totals is 1,479 years; but a total at the end of the VIth dynasty in the Turin papyrus is 1,755 years, and with this agrees the total of 2,300 years to the close of the XIth dynasty in Manetho. This discrepancy of 258 or 276 years might perhaps be due to the Turin papyrus having counted a dynasty of kings before Menes. In this uncertainty we shall do best to keep to the numbers of Manetho. The final list for the dynasties, then, will be as follows:
Dynasty Began B.C.
Dynasty Began B.C. I 5510 XIII 3246 II 5247 XIV 2793 III 4945 XV 2533 IV 4731 XVI 2249 V 4454 XVII 1731 VI 4206 XVIII 1580 VII 4003 XIX 1322 VIII 3933 XX 1202 IX 3787 XXI 1102 X 3687 XXII 952 XI 3502 XXIII 755 XII 3459 XXIV 721
The first column of this list may very possibly have errors of a century in it, but it is not likely to vary more than this, judging by the two seasonal dates in the VIth dynasty. The second column must be correct to within a few years, as correct as we can fix the rising of Sirius. The general astronomical question of the place of Sirius, in regard to the processional movement of the pole, does not appear to have been yet properly calculated. «p.176:» It may introduce two or three centuries of difference possibly in the earlier dates, but it would in no way affect the reasoning of the question here. If any one wishes to abandon these dates, they must also abandon the greater part of the information that we have, cast Manetho and the Turin papyrus aside, ignore the evidence of Cretan archaeology, and treat history as a mere matter of arbitrary will, regardless of all records. As against this general position of dates there is nothing to be set in favour of any very different schemes, nothing — except the weightiest thing of all — prepossessions.
There are but three courses possible: (1) to abandon all the systematic documents that have come down to us; or (2) to invent an arbitrary change in the calendar sequence, of which there is no evidence; or (3) to accept the results here stated.
In connection with the question of the risings of Sirius in their chronological relation, we must also take notice of the great festival of the sed, or ending, which was a royal observance of the first importance. Every one agrees that the sed festival came after a period of 30 years, as it is stated expressly on the Rosetta stone; but whether this refers to a period of the king, or to an absolute fixed period, is a question. There have been three theories about this festival: (1) that it came after 30 years of reign, as it certainly did under Ramessu II; (2) that it came after 30 years of princedom, counting from the time when the king had been appointed crown prince; (3) that it came at fixed intervals of 30 years, or approximately so. If it can be shown to have a connection with fixed intervals, it becomes of some importance in the history and chronology. The entirely exceptional use of this festival at intervals of three years by Ramessu II was only an egotistical freak.
That this festival did not refer to 30 years of the king's reign is clear from the regnal years that are recorded for it; these are 37, 2, 16, 33, 12, and 22; «p.177:» also it occurs in a reign which only lasted 26 years. That it referred to years of princedom seems unlikely, by those years in which it was celebrated. Mentuhotep's feast was in his 2nd year. Hatshepsut (whose festival came about the 40th year of her age) is not likely to have been associated with her father as heir when she was only ten years old, and when he had also a younger son. Akhenaten is not likely to have been associated on the throne as soon as he was born, yet his festival fell about the 30th year of his age. Tut.ankh.amen, who has the reference to "millions of festivals" in his reign, was only 9 years on the throne, and his predecessor only 12 years, so he never saw the 30th year of his princedom. And Ramessu II is known to have been associated with Sety as prince for some years; yet he celebrates his sed in his 30th year.
Is there, then, any reason for associating these festivals with a fixed period? We have seen how important was the observation of Sirius for regulating the year, and how the whole cycle of months shifted round the season, and was connected with the rising of Sirius. If, then, the months were thus linked to a cycle of 1,460 years, what is more likely than that the shifting of each month would be noticed? This was a period of 120 years, in which each month took the place of the previous one. And a festival of 120 years is recognised as having taken place; it was named the henti, and was determined with the hieroglyphs of a road and two suns, suggesting that it belonged to the passage of time. It is impossible to suppose that this could refer to the length of a reign or a princedom. We may reasonably see in this the feast when each first day of a month fell on the heliacal rising of Sirius, at intervals of 120 years.
Can we, then, dissociate a feast of 30 years from that of 120 years? The 120 years is the interval of one month's shift; the 30 years is the interval of one week's shift. Having a shifting calendar, it would be «p.178:» strange if no notice was taken of the periods of recurrence in it, and a feast of 120 years and another of 30 years are the natural accompaniments of such a system. In the great festival of the renewal of a Sothic period in 139 A.D., the signs of the months are prominent on the coins of Alexandria.
But if this were true we ought to find that the festivals fall at regular intervals of time. There might be small variations, as the four weeks are 28 days and not 30; so there might be times when by keeping to a week-reckoning of intervals of 28 years they mounted up to 112 years instead of 120 for a month. But this would only lead to anticipating the feast by 8 years before it was set right again at a whole month. We will therefore state all the sed festivals that are known, although we have not a sufficiently certain chronology in the earlier period to test their dates.
Narmer on mace-head (Hierakonpolis, i, xxvi, B). Zer seals (Royal Tombs, ii, xv, 108, 109). Den ivory tablet, ebony tablet (R. T., i, xiv, 12; xv, 16). " seal (R.T., ii, xix, 154). Semerkhet crystal and alabaster vases (R. T., i, vii, 5-8). ? Palermo stone, 3rd line, 3rd space — Qa two bowls (R.T., i, viii, 6, 7). " Sab.ef, overseer of the sed heb (R.T., i, xxx). Ra.n.user temple at Abusir (A. Z., xxxvii, taf. 1).
B.C. Cycle. Pepy I Magháreh, 37th year. 4131? 4121 (L., D., ii, 116, a). " Hammamat, 37th year " " (L., D., ii, 115, a, c, e, g). Mentuhotep II Hammamat, 2nd year ? 3522? (L., D., ii, 149). Senusert I obelisk 3439-3397 3402 (L., D., ii, 118, h). Senusert III Semneh 3339-13 3342 (L., D., iii, 51). Amenhotep I Karnak 1562-41 1552 — Tahutmes I Karnak 1541-16 1522 (L., D., iii, 6). Hatshepsut Karnak 1500 1492 (L., D., iii, 22). Tahutmes III Bersheh 1470 1462 (S., I, ii, 37). Amenhotep II Karnak? 1449-23 1431 (Pr., A.). Amenhotep III Soleb 1414-1379 1401 (L., D., iii, 83-8). Akhenaten Amarna 1372 1372 (L., D., iii, 100). Tut.ankh.amen Qurneh 1353-44 1342 (L., D., iii, 115-8). Sety I Abydos 1326-1300 1292 (Mar., Ab., i,31) Ramessu II various 1270 1262 (B., T., 1128). «p.179:» Ramessu III El Kab 1202-1171 1202 (B., T., 1129). Ramessu IV Karnak 1171-1165 1172 (L., D., iii, 220). Uasarkon II Bubastis 857 — (N., F.H.). Feast of 12 years, therefore also 869 872 — Tarharqa Karnak 701-667 692 (Pr., M., 33). Nekhthorheb Bubastis 378-361 362 (N., B., 57) Ptolemy I Koptos 304-285 302 (P., Kop., 19). (The references above are those used in my Student's History of Egypt.)
Now there is no difficulty in identifying the positions of these cycle dates with the sed festivals, remembering that there cannot be exactitude nearer than three or four years, as that is only a single day's shift of Sirius' rising; and eight years' anticipation, as in Hatshepsut, Tahutmes III, Sety I, and Ramessu II may exactly result from reckoning on by weeks of 28 years' shift, instead of 30. But by these all agreeing together it is more likely that the observations were made farther south, say at Thebes instead of Memphis; the different positions of observation in Egypt would make a day's difference in the visibility of Sirius. When there are long reigns, and no dates of the festival, there is of course no proof in the case. But where there are exact dates, as in the four cases named, we see that they agree with the festivals, with the small anticipation which I have noticed. Under Akhenaten there was no anticipation, and it is just then that Thebes was abandoned, and the observations might have been made farther north. The festival of Uasarkon II seems at first sight contradictory, as that fell in 857 and the cycle of weeks fell in 872 and 842 B.C. But it is called a festival of 12 years at Bubastis; also, I have a base of a statuette of Uasarkon, which names festivals of 12 years. And 12 years before 857 is 869, agreeing with the cycle in 872 B.C.
Now it is very unlikely that these five exact datings should agree so closely to a fixed cycle by mere accident, and that the other cycles should all fall within the required reigns. The probability is that the sed feasts belong to these cycles, as we have seen is suggested by the length of the cycle of 30 years and that of 120 years.
«p.180:» Looking more closely at the designation of the feast, we see that it is often called sep tep sed heb, "occasion, first or chief, of end festival." This has always been supposed to mean the first occasion in the reign; but we see that in the 37th year of Pepy I (which must be his second occurrence of a 30 years' period) he has a sep tep sed heb; and Amenhotep II, who only reigned 26 years, has a sep tep uahem sed heb, "repetition of the chief sed festival," as uahem is used in other cases for the repetition of a sed festival. These examples show that the adjective tep refers to the quality of the occasion, "the chief occasion of a sed festival." The chief occasion of a sed feast was the 120 years' feast on the shift of a whole month. Let us see how this agrees with these sep tep feasts:
B.C. Cycle. Sirius rose. Pepy I 4131? 4121 Paophi 1. Mentuhotep II ? ? ? Senusert I 3439-3397 3402 Pharmuthi 1. Hatshepsut 1500 1492 Epiphi 22. Amenhotep II 1449-23 1432 Repetition of the sep tep, so the sep tep was in 1462 Mesore 1. Ramessu III 1202-1171 1202 Paophi 1. Uasarkon II 857 — Khoiak 28.
Thus, by the chronology which we have before reached, five out of six certain dates of chief occasions of the festival were on the first of a month, or just at the close of a month. That of Hatshepsut is the only exception; the lengths of reigns of the XIth dynasty being too uncertain for us to here include Mentuhotep II. If such agreement were mere chance, not more than one in four of such feasts should fall on the beginning of the month; it is thus fair evidence in favour of this meaning of the "chief occasion," when five out of six agree to it. The cause of the exception in the case of Hatshepsut is unknown to us.
By the agreement (within likely variations) of the exactly dated sed festivals with the epochs of a weekly shift «p.181:» of the rising of Sirius, 30 years apart, and by the chief festivals falling usually on the epochs of the monthly shift, we have a strong confirmation of the connection of these festivals with the epochs of the calendar.
Thus we conclude that when the beginning of a month shifted so as to coincide with the observed rising of Sirius before the sun, a chief sed festival was held and when each week, or quarter month, agreed to the rising, there was an ordinary sed festival.
The name of this festival is, however, "the end festival," literally "the tail festival"; it commemorated, therefore, the close of some period, rather than a beginning. Let us look more closely at the nature of this great feast, a study of which may be seen in MURRAY, Osireion. The principal event in it was the king sitting in a shrine like a god, and holding in his hands the crook and the flail of Osiris. He is shown as wrapped in tight bandages, like the mummified Osiris figures, and there is nothing but his name to prove that this was not Osiris himself. Otherwise, he is seated on a throne borne on the shoulders of twelve priests, exactly like the figures of the gods. In short, it is the apotheosis of the king during his lifetime. Now, when we see that the king was identified with Osiris, the god of the dead, the god with whom every dead person was assimilated, we must regard such a ceremony as being the ritual equivalent of the king's death. We have the near parallel in the Ethiopian kingdom, where, as Strabo says, the priests sometimes sent orders to the king by a messenger, to put an end to his life, when they appointed another king in his place (Hist., xvii, 2, 3). And Diodoros states that this custom was forcibly abolished as late as the time of Ergamenes, in the 3rd century B.C. Dr. Frazer has brought together other examples of this African custom. In Unyoro the king, when ill, is slain by his wives. In Kibanga the same is done by the sorcerers. Among the Zulus the king was slain at the first signs of age coming on. «p.182:» In Sofala the kings, though they were gods, were always put to death when blemishes or weakness overtook them. The same custom appeared in early Europe. In Prussia the ruler was "God's mouth," but when ill he was bound to agree to self-immolation with the holy fire.
Another mode of averting the misfortune of having an imperfect divine king was to renew the king, not only on occasion of his visible defects, but at stated regular intervals. In Southern India this period (fixed by the revolution of the planet Jupiter) was 12 years, the same as we find quoted for the sed festival under Uasarkon II. At Calicut the custom was that a jubilee was proclaimed every 12 years; a tent was pitched for the ruler, and a great feast celebrated for many days, and then any four of the guests that would, fought their way through the guards, and whichever killed the ruler succeeded him. If none could reach the ruler, then the reign was apparently renewed for 12 years. In Babylonia the custom was to slay a series of annual kings. In later times a condemned criminal was substituted, who lived in enjoyment of all the royal rights for five days before his execution. In Egypt this substitution was familiar in modern times at the Coptic new year, when a mock ruler, with tall, pointed cap, false beard, a peculiar garment, and sceptre in hand, held his court and ruled for three days at his will. This dress was then burnt on the man who personated the king.
All of these instances given by Dr. Frazer (Golden Bough, i, 218-31) are summed up by him thus: "We must not forget that the king is slain in his character of a god, his death and resurrection, as the only means of perpetuating the divine life unimpaired, being deemed necessary for the salvation of his people and the world."
We see thus how various peoples have slain their divine kings after fixed periods; or have in later times substituted mock ones, who should be slain at appointed times in place of the real king. Such a «p.183:» ceremony was the occasion of a great festival, fixed astronomically, setting aside all the usual affairs of life.
Now let us learn what we can of the Egyptian festival of the sed heb, in view of the festivals which we have been noticing. The essential point was the identification of the king with Osiris, the god of the dead; he was enthroned, holding the crook and the flail, as Osiris, and carried in the shrine on the shoulders of twelve priests, exactly like the figure of a god. The oldest representation of this festival on the mace of Narmer, about 5500 B.C., shows that the Osirified king was seated in a shrine on high, at the top of nine steps. Fan-bearers stood at the side of the shrine. Before the shrine is a figure in a palanquin, which is named in the feast of Ra.n.user as the "royal child." An enclosure of curtains hung on poles surrounds the dancing ground, where three men are shown performing the sacred dance. At one side of this is the procession of the standards, the first of which is the jackal Up-uat, the "opener of ways" for the dead. On the other side of the enclosure of the dancing ground are shown 400,000 oxen, and 1,422,000 goats for the great national feast; and behind the enclosure are 120,000 captives (Hierakonpolis, i, xxvi, B).
The next detail that we find is on the seal of King Zer (5300 B.C.), where the king is shown seated in the Osirian form, with the standard of the jackal-god before him. This jackal is Up-uat, who is described as "He who opens the way when thou advancest towards the under-world." Before him is the ostrich-feather, emblem of lightness or space; this was called "the shed-shed which is in front," and on it the dead king was supposed to ascend into heaven (see SETHE in GARSTANG, Mahasna, p.19). Here, then, the king, identified with Osiris, king of the dead, has before him the jackal-god, who leads the dead, and the ostrich-feather, which symbolizes his reception into the sky.
«p.184:» The next festival that we have represented is that of King Den, in the middle of the Ist dynasty (5330 B.C.). This shows an important part of the ceremony, when, after the king was enthroned as Osiris, and thus ceremonially dead, another king performs the sacred dance in the enclosure before him. This new king turns his back to the Osirian shrine, and is acting without any special veneration of the deified king (Royal Tombs, i, xv, 16). We do not learn any further details from the published fragments of the Abusir sculptures of the festival of Ra.n.user.
There are no more scenes of this festival till we come down to the time of Amenhotep III, who has left a series of scenes at Soleb. There we see that the festival is associated with a period of years, as the king and the great priests approach the shrines of the gods, bearing notched palm-sticks, the emblem of a tally of years (L., D., iii, 84). The ostrich-feather is placed upon a separate standard, and borne before the standard of Up-uat (85). The royal daughters also appear here in the ceremonies (86), as in some other instances.
In the festival of Uasarkon the details are much fuller (NAVILLE, Festival Hall). We there learn that the king as a god was joined in his procession by Amen, both gods being similarly carried by twelve priests. We also see that the festival, though it took place at Bubastis, was specially connected with Heliopolis, the old seat of learning and science, and probably an ancient capital.
On a late coffin with scenes of this festival (A. Z., xxxix, taf. v, vi), we see the king (or his substitute?) dancing before the seated Osiride figures of himself; the three curtains of the dancing ground are still shown behind him. There are also offerings being made to the Osiride king, as to a god. The erection of obelisks is performed by a man, who makes offerings to the sacred bull, entitled, "Great God, Lord of Anu, «p.185:» Khenti.amenti." The royal sons are shown by three figures, who are seated on the ground before "Upuatiu, the king, Commander of earth and heaven."
The details of these festivals thus agree closely with what we should expect in the apotheosis of the king.
The conclusion may be drawn thus. In the savage age of prehistoric times, the Egyptians, like many other African and Indian peoples, killed their priest-king at stated intervals, in order that the ruler should, with unimpaired life and health, be enabled to maintain the kingdom in its highest condition. The royal daughters were present in order that they might be married to his successor. The jackal-god went before him, to open the way to the unseen world; and the ostrich-feather received and bore away the king's soul in the breeze that blew it out of sight. This was the celebration of the "end," the sed feast. The king thus became the dead king, patron of all those who had died in his reign, who were his subjects here and hereafter. He was thus one with Osiris, the king of the dead. This fierce custom became changed, as in other lands, by appointing a deputy-king to die in his stead; which idea survived in the Coptic Abu Nerûs, with his tall crown of Upper Egypt, false beard, and sceptre. After the death of the deputy, the real king renewed his life and reign. Henceforward this became the greatest of the royal festivals, the apotheosis of the king during his life, after which he became Osiris upon earth and the patron of the dead in the underworld.
Such a festival naturally became attached to the recurring one of the weekly shift of the calendar, the close of one period, the beginning of a new age. It was thus regarded not as the death of the king, but as the renewing of his life with powers in this world and the next, an occasion of the greatest rejoicing, and a festival which stamped all the monuments of the year with the memory of its glory.
This text was scanned from the original 1906 edition of
Flinders Petrie's Researches in Sinai (John Murray, London)
and put into HTML by Peter Meyer in April 2000 CE.
The above text has been checked against the original.
Material in [square brackets] in the text is the author's.
- Sir W. M. Flinders Petrie: The Pyramids and Temples of Gizeh
Calendar Studies Index Hermetic Systems Home Page