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Chap. 17. Historical Notes

Pages 149 - 161

111. [p. 149] In considering the arrangements of the early monuments, the questions of the invariability of the climate, and the state of the ground when they were built, become of interest. Was the sand as encroaching then as now? And did the builders anticipate the half-buried state of many monuments?

In considering these questions we must first glance at the general course of Egyptian climate. The country has undoubtedly been gradually drying up. The prodigious water-worn ravines in the cliffs of the Nile valley show this and there are remarkable evidences of the Nile having been habitually some 50 feet above its present level, thus filling up the whole valley at all times of the year. At many points of the Nile valley, particularly at Tehneh, the cliffs are all water-worn in holes, exactly in the manner of solution under water; while above this action, over about 50 feet level, the cliffs are worn by aerial denudation in a wholly different manner: also the lower part projects forward as a foot, in front of the upper part, the action by water being apparently much slower than that in air, and tending to prevent aerial denudation afterwards.

Besides this, at the foot of the cliffs, particularly at Beni Hassan, wherever the scour of the current was less, or ravines debouched into the main valley, large banks of debris have been formed, showing the former power and height of the stream. That it was fed by local rains throughout its course is seen by the deep gorges in the cliffs, often a mile long, and ending in dried-up waterfalls. In the history of the Faium the same drying up is seen; that district appears to have been originally a large lake, which has been gradually reduced, partly artificially, until it is now not a tenth of its former size.

It therefore appears certain that the general change has been one of desiccation; and the inquiry to be made is, if there be any evidence to show whether this change has been continuing in historic times.

Rain was certainly known in Lower Egypt in the Pyramid times, though there is but one evidence of it in the monuments; the water-spout carved in stone, leading from the roof of one of the tombs of the fifth dynasty at Gizeh, is a proof that such a feature was known, and perhaps in common use on the mud-[p. 150]brick houses. Nevertheless, the rain can hardly have been much commoner then than now, or more signs of its action on the tombs would remain. In Greek times the rain appears to have been just as rare as it is now, or even rarer, in Upper Egypt. Herodotus says that the last that fell at Thebes was two centuries before his time, under Psamtik, and then only in drops. Now, last year, Mr Tristram Ellis, while at Negadeh, just below Thebes, expected rain one day, but he was told that none had been seen there for 45 years. So there does not appear to have been appreciable climatic change in the Thebaid during the last two thousand years. The pits in the Tombs of the Kings, sometimes supposed to have been intended to arrest any storm-flooding, may as likely have been to arrest or hinder intruders; or may be sepulchral pits abandoned, owing to the changes and amplifications of the plans. Again, it may be observed that neither rain, nor any sign of rain, is shown in the paintings of the tombs; no wide hats, no umbrellas, no dripping cattle, are ever represented. Mud-brick tombs, covered with stucco, still remain from the third or fourth dynasty, when they were built without any apparent fear of their dissolution.

On the whole, the rainfall does not appear to have perceptibly changed during historic times.

The Nile, though so much higher in prehistoric or geologic times, as just mentioned, does not seem to have sunk at all, in Middle or Lower Egypt, in historic times; though above the cataracts it has fallen some twenty or thirty feet. Below the cataracts, on the contrary, it has actually risen, owing to silting up; for many of the deepest tomb-shafts at Gizeh have now several feet of water in them at high Nile, and can only be entered just before the inundation. Also the thickness of mud over the remains both at Memphis and Karnak shows not only the great amount of deposit, but also how much the river must have risen for it to lay down mud so many feet above the old level of deposit.

The rise due to silting up proceeds, then, much faster than any slight diminution of the river which may take place.

The amount of the sand, then, cannot be affected by any variation in moisture; and on looking back it seems very doubtful if there has been any change in it. The sand over the Serapeum might be supposed to have increased, as it has buried the Sphinxes there. But these are of Greek work, and were only erected shortly before the time of Strabo; and he, nevertheless mentions them as being nearly buried in his day, though doubtless some attempt was made then to keep them cleared. Before this, in the dream of Tahutmes IV., the Sphinx at Gizeh appears to have been buried very much as at present. And on looking to the remains of the early dynasties at Gizeh and elsewhere, their buried state seems rather to be due to artificial changes accumulating the sand than to any great increase in the general amount of sand.

[p. 151] The usual way in which the sand is moved is by a few high winds in the course of the year. These tear over the ground, as opaque as a London fog, bearing just as much sand as their whirling will support; and as soon as any obstacle checks their velocity the surplus of sand is dropped, and thus accumulates. Now the tombs are either rock-hewn, in which case a face of rock is artificially scarped for the fronts, or else they are built on the surface. In either case an eddy is formed in the wind, and this will cause quantities of sand to be thrown down during a sand storm. Again, the erection of the Pyramids would be sufficient to interrupt the steady blow of the wind by causing numerous oblique currents, and would so produce an increase of wind-borne sand in the neighbourhood. Whatever cause checks the velocity of the wind is sure to lead the sand to accumulate; the Arabs know this well, and plant frail rows of reeds (even spaced apart) around their gardens bordering the desert; these make the wind drop the sand, so as to form a bank outside them, and thus keep the enclosures clear.

The general conclusion as to the climate, then, seems to be that there has been no appreciable change in rainfall, river-flow, or sand-blow during historic times.

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112. The builder of the Pyramid of Abu Roash and his epoch have hitherto been quite unknown there being merely a presumption that it is one of the earliest Pyramids, because it is the most northerly. Now that we have obtained part of the builder's name on the fragment of diorite throne that I found there, we have some clue to the age. No name is known on the monumental lists like Men......ra, beside the three kings Men-ka-u-ra of the fourth, Men-ka-ra of the sixth, and Ra-mentu-hotep of the eleventh dynasty. But M. Maspero has informed me that there were other kings named Men-ka-ra, or Men-ka-u-ra in the second dynasty; and Bunsen, in his fourth volume, edits Eratosthenes as giving Menkheres II. in succession to Menkaura of the fourth dynasty.

When we consider the claims of these kings, some are disallowed by reason of external circumstances. The Pyramid of Menkaura of the fourth dynasty is well known already at Gizeh and the workmanship of the Pyramid at Abu Roash excludes it from the period of the rubble Pyramids of the sixth dynasty at Sakkara, and of the mud-brick Pyramids of the eleventh and twelfth dynasties at Thebes and Howara. Thus it is almost certain that we must look either to some king of the second or third dynasties not found in the lists, or to a second Menkaura, successor to Menkaura of the fourth dynasty.

The work of this Pyramid suggests that of the fourth dynasty. The Pyramid of Khufu at Gizeh had no granite outside it; that of Khafra had one or two courses of granite; that of Menkaura had nearly half its surface covered with granite casing; thus there is a progressive use of granite by these successive kings; and at Abu Roash the Pyramid was entirely cased with granite, [p. 152] and therefore next in order of work after that of Menkaura of Gizeh. And this is all the stronger evidence, because no other examples of granite casing on a Pyramid are known.1  Again, the diorite statue at Abu Roash was apparently like that of Khafra in size, material, and inscription (section 105), which also tends to fix this Pyramid to the fourth dynasty. Hence, untill more remains shall be found at Abu Roash, and more is known of the other reputed Menkaura kings, it may be considered that this Pyramid was built next after the three Pyramids of Gizeh,, though making a slight reservation in favour of the earlier dynasties.

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113. The builder of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh is well known. Khufu (Grecianized as Kheopa2  and Soufis3  and AngIo-Grecianized as Cheops) is named both by historians and by his cartouches, which are found as quarry-marks on the building stones. But another name is found on the blocks in the Pyramid, side by side with those bearing the name of Khufu. This other name is the same as that of Khufu, with the prefix of two hieroglyphs, a jug and a ram and it is variously rendered Khnumu-Khufu, Nh-Shufu, and Shu-Shufu. The most destructive theory about this king is that he is identical with Khufu, and that the ram is merely a symbol of the god Shu, and put as " the determinative in this place of the first syllable of the name. " But against this hypothesis it must be observed (1) that the pronunciation was Khufu, and not Shufu, in the early times; (2) that the first hieroglyph, the jug, is thus unexplained; and (3) that there is no similar prefix of a determinative to a king's name, in any other instance out of the hundreds of names, and thousands of variants, known.4 

On the monuments bearing the name of Khnumu-Khufu at Gizeh, and at Wady Maghara, there also occurs with different titles, the name of Khufu himself. 'That the names should thus be found together is very likely, if they were co-regents, as their joint occurrence in the Pyramid would lead us to expect.

The choice, then; lies between the simple idea of a co-regency, such as we know often existed or else, on the other hand, adopting a late pronunciation, ignoring one character of the name, inventing the application of prefixed determinatives in cartouches, and supposing that the King's name would be put in duplicate on public monuments with and without a determinative. These requirements are contradicted by the well-known usage found on all other remains.

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114. Beside Khumu-Khufu, there is the name of another king which [p. 153] belongs to this period, and which is equally rare, though more often mentioned by modern writers. This is Ra-tat-ef (or Doudew-Ra of the French), who is placed in the monumental lists next after Khufu, and whose name is only found in those lists, compounded in names of places, and as being worshipped with Khufu and Khafra at a late period. That he did not succeed Menkaura, as the name Ratoises in Manetho might indicate, is shown by the concurrence of the monumental lists, and by Aseskaf being both successor and adopted son to Menkaura. Here, then, are two names, Khnumu-Khufu and Ra-tat-f, apparently contemporary, and yet never found placed together. It seems not improbable, then, that these are the two names of one king; that Ra-tat-f was the personal name of the co-regent of Khufu, the name given to his lands, and by which he was worshipped in later times; and that Khumu-Khufu, or "he who is united with Khufu " (v. Ebers on Khnum), was the name of the co-regent when he was joined with Khufu in the government It must he remembered that the duplication of names is always difficult to prove; and it is only by a single point of evidence in each case that the identity of such well-known kings as Kaka and Nofer-ar-ka-ra, of An and Ra-en-user, or of Assa and Tat-ka-ra, has been inferred.

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115. Khafra5  has, on the strength of the historians, been considered by most writers as the builder of the Second Pyramid but there was, till lately, no monumental evidence on this point. About three years ago, however, the great causeway was discovered which led from the lower granite temple, where the statues of Khafra were found, to the upper temple by the Second Pyramid. A closer connection of Khafra with this upper temple, I was happy enough to find while there from the heaps of chips in the temple, I obtained (without excavating) a piece of white magnesite, steel-hard, with part of the cartouche and standard of Khafra, exquisitely cut and also a piece of alabaster with the cartouche alone, Besides this, the base of a diorite statue that I found here, is of just the same gauge as a piece of the base and feet of a small diorite statue that I picked up at Sakkara, inscribed " .. nofer nuter, neb khaui .. " and which is therefore almost certainly of Khafra. The finding of these cartouche fragments gives the clearest monumental proof that has yet been obtained of the Second Pyramid belonging to Khafra. It may be mentioned here that I also picked up at Gizeh a piece of diorite bowl inscribed " .. nofru"; perhaps, therefore, of Senofru; and another piece with the standard of Khufu.

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116. The attribution of the Third Pyramid to Men-ka-u-ra, the successor of Khafra, is disputed and the reasons for doubting his sole ownership appear to be as follows, First, that the Pyramid has certainly been altered from its first [p. 154] design in the inside, and also, perhaps, on the outside; secondly, that there appear to have been two coffers in it; thirdly, that Diodorus says that Menkaura died before it was finished and, fourthly, that Manetho attributes it to Nitakerti, the queen in whom the sixth dynasty became extinct, and who is supposed to be identical with the Men-ka-ra of the lists of Abydos.

The change of design in this Pyramid does not seem, however, to have been due to a later reign but to have occurred, like some after-thoughts in the Great Pyramid, while it was in course of construction. It has been already pointed out (section 89) in the description of this Pyramid, that no part of the panelled chamber, of the lower (granite) chamber or of the present floor of the upper chamber, can belong to a first design, of which the upper and disused passage was a part Hence, if an earlier burial had existed before the finishing of the Pyramid, the coffer must have stood in the upper chamber, the only one then existing, and have been shifted about during the internal deepening of that and the excavation of the other chambers, and finally reset in a fresh place, if the coffer socket in the upper chamber be attributed to an earlier coffer; a proceeding that is not likely on the part of a ruler who violated the sepulchre, and appropriated it. Also it would be difficult to see the object of so altering and enlarging an existing Pyramid; as such a Pyramid would supply but 1/8th of the whole mass required, and its excavations would be still more trifling compared with the existing chambers There would be, therefore, no adequate reason for such an appropriation. Besides this, the plan of the Pyramid is shown to have been enlarged while it was in course of construction, and not in a later reign, by there being no finished casing to be found at the upper end of the blind passage, the place where any earlier casing would be discoverable, if it had ever been put on. The masonry about that part has been forced in various directions, in search of any continuation of the passage; and hence, if any older finished casing existed, like that of the inner coats of the Mastaba-Pyramids, it would certainly have been found.

Next, looking at the historical side of the question, this Pyramid (as all writers are agreed) cannot be earlier than the Pyramids of Khufu and Khafra, by reason of its inferiority of position; the poorer site was accepted for it, in a way that clearly stamps it as being later. The question then lies thus; is the basalt coffer that was found in the lowest chamber, that of the first builder or of any later occupant? Undoubtedly of the latest occupant, if there were two; since it was far more carefully concealed, and more finely enshrined, than any coffer could have been in the upper chamber. Now the lid of the basalt coffer of the lower chamber was found lying in the upper chamber; and along with it the lid of a wooden coffin, bearing the well-known inscription of Menkaura. And therefore the basalt coffer is always accepted, and rightly so, as that of Menkaura of the fourth, and not of Menkara of the sixth dynasty. Thus, by the spelling, the latest [p. 155] occupant of the Pyramid was the same king that we have already seen must be the earliest builder of it; so that any double origin, or later appropriation of it is thus contradicted.

The evidence from the character of the work is entirely in favour of its being of the fourth, and not of the sixth dynasty. The panel ornament both in the first chamber and on the coffer (which is like that of tombs of the fourth), — the absence of any stone-cut inscriptions, such as cover the walls of the pyramids of the sixth dynasty, — the use of granite for the lower casing, and for the lining of a passage and chamber, — the position of the Pyramid in relation to the others, the peribolus of the Pyramid of Khafra being unfinished when the Third Pyramid peribolus was being built, — and the absence of any remains of the sixth dynasty in the neighbourhood, — all these characteristic features point clearly to the dynasty, and even to the reign, of Menkaura successor to Khafra.

The socket cut in the floor of the upper chamber, which Perring thought might be for a second coffer, was also suggested by him to be for holding a blind coffer to deceive explorers. It may very possibly have been intended to hold the basalt coffer, for which afterwards another finer and more secret chamber was prepared or it may very possibly have held the base of a diorite or basalt statue of Menkaura. In any case no coffer, or fragments of one belonging to this place, was to be found.

The evidence of Manetho is not quite certain in the mere extracts that we possess; he only mentions that Nitakerti built "the Third Pyramid," without saying where it was; and it is only a presumption that it refers to the same group as "the largest Pyramid,'' which he mentions 20 reigns earlier. It might have referred in the full original text to one of the Sakkara groups, where we should naturally look for works of the sixth dynasty.

Diodorus Siculus, though saying that Menkaura died before the Pyramid was finished, yet expressly states that he was a son of Khufu. The unfinished state of the granite casing, and absence of pavement, exactly accord with the premature death of the king.

Thus the four reasons for doubting the earlier date of this Pyramid are reversed or neutralized on examining the details; excepting the testimony of Manetho. The choice then lies between —on the one hand, Manetho being misunderstood, or in error by confounding Menkaura and Menkara or, on the other hand, ignoring the spelling or the names; —the character of the construction and decoration, —the situation of the Pyramid, —the connections of the peribolus, —the date of the neighbouring tombs, —and the testimony of Herodotus and Diodorus.

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117. Regarding the age of the brick Pyramids, it is well known that such were built in the eleventh dynasty by the Antef kings at Thebes; and probably in the twelfth dynasty by Amenemhat III. at Howara, by the side of the labyrinth in [p. 156] which that king's name is found. This shows that as a class they belong to the times after the stone Pyramids, and thus gives a general clue to age of those at Dahshur. Unhappily, Perring only found the end of a cartouche in his digging there, with " .... kau " upon it. This mere fragment, however, is of value, as there is no king in the lists whose name ends in kau until the eighth dynasty excepting Ramenkau, whose Pyramid is the Third of Gizeh, and Hormenkau, whose Pyramid is believed to be at Sakkara, by the slab bearing his figure being found there in the Serapeum. It is not till the end of the eighth dynasty, when there occurs three names ending in kau, that we meet then with any name that can be applied to the S. brick Pyramid of Dashhur The style ofwork of the fragments found along with the cartouche is also clearly of about this date; they are not in the style of any dynasty before the seventh, nor in that of the twelfth or later periods; but they most resemble a tomb of the eleventh dynasty at Kom Ahmar (lat. 28º 5'). Hence, by the fragment of the name, —by the character of the work, —and by the material used, —there seems little doubt but that the brick Pyramids of Dahshur belong to the dark and troubled period between the sixth and eleventh dynasties; and that they may probably be assigned to the end of the eighth dynasty.

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118. The celebrated tablet containing a reference to the Sphinx requires some notice here of its age and history. While I was at Gizeh, the official excavations by the authorities disclosed some fresh parts of the temple in which this tablet was found; it lies close to the E. side of the Pyramid, No. 9 of Vyse, the southern of the small Pyramids by the Great Pyramid. Most happily the excavations disclosed a scene of the king offering to Osiris; and, though much decayed, the cartouche was legible, and was in every hieroglyph that of Petukhanu of the twenty-first dynasty; he is represented wearing the crown of Lower Egypt. This, then, gives the date of the temple; and the character of at the work agrees well to this epoch.

Now the question of the critical value of the little tablet that mentions the Sphinx, turns on the choice of three hypotheses. 1st. That it is the original tablet of the age of Khufu, preserved through at least 500 years (or, according to Mariette, double that time), and built into the temple of Petukhanu. 2nd. That it is a copy of such a tablet, more or less exact. 3rd. That it is an unhistorical inscription written for the decoration and honouring of the temple of this usurping dynasty. And it should be noted that it does not profess to be con-temporary with Khufu, or even to be a copy of an early record. The style of the engraving is quite unlike the work of the Old Kingdom; in place of the finely rounded and delicate forms in low relief, and the bold, handsome execution, of the time of Khufu, this insignificant-looking tablet is cut in scratchy intaglio, worse than any of the poorest tomb-decorations of the early times, and looking like nothing but a degradation of the work of the decadence of the twentieth dynasty. Most authorities now agree that it cannot be contemporary with Khufu. Is it [p. 157] then an exact copy of any earlier tablet? This can only be judged by its matter, and on looking at the figures represented on it, it will be seen that they are such as are not found on early monuments they comprise Osiris, Isis and Horus, Isis Selk, Khem, Bast ? the human-headed uraeus, and the sacred bark. Of these, scarcely one can be found on any monument, public or private, of the Old Kingdom; not all of these figures could be matched under the twelfth dynasty; even the monuments of the eighteenth and perhaps nineteenth dynasties do not often show such an assemblage together; and it would be an entire novelty to find such a company on any stele that Khufu could have seen. In the inscription itself, moreover, Osiris is repeatedly called Neb Rustau," or, "lord of the abodes of the dead" (Brugsch); this title is one that does not occur in any of the dozens of inscribed tombs of the Old Kingdom that are visible at Gizeh; but it is found repeatedly in this temple, built by Petukhanu in the twenty-first dynasty, from which this tablet came, Also, though Pyramids are often mentioned in early inscriptions, Isis is never connected with any of them, and her name is hardly ever found in Pyramid times; so that the title of "Patroness of the Pyramid" seems (like "Mother of the Gods," also found there on the tablet) to be as late an invention as " Neb Rustau."

Thus, by all that can be so clearly seen of the well-marked styles and characteristics of the different periods of Egyptian art and religion, and by the titles here used, this tablet is relegated to the third hypothesis, and stands as an invented inscription designed for the decoration of the temple. This relieves us from an apparent anachronism, as no trace of a Sphinx in statuary, tablets, or inscription, is to be found until the Hyksos period and such a form was not common until after that. It would seem, therefore, to be an Asiatic idea, akin to the human-headed lions, bulls, and dragons of Assyria and Babylonia. In any case, the allusions to the Sphinx in this tablet were merely topographical, and might be struck out or inserted without altering the sense of it; hence, even if it were a refurbished copy of an older inscription, it would not be of critical value in relation to the age of the Sphinx unless its rigorous accuracy and freedom from additions could be proved.

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119. Though the age of the foundation of buildings is always examined, yet the date of their destruction is often of greater historical importance. The many erasures of the names of Set, of Amen, of Hatasu, and others, show very important changes, and the mode in which many of the remains have been destroyed is also very suggestive. The Pyramid of Pepi shows one of the most striking examples of spiteful violence that may be found. Such destruction is commonly attributed to the Persians, or the Hyksos; but the details seem to show violence of an earlier date. In the passage of this Pyramid, the name Ra-meri is chopped out in almost every place, without the rest of the inscription being attacked. This shows a personal spite, beyond the mere destructiveness of an invader, and which can hardly be accounted [p. 158] for even by the Hyksos conquest. Again, not content with tearing the body out of its wrappings, the massive and tough basalt coffer was raised on stones, lines of cleaving-holes cut in it, a fire burnt beneath it, and, with the utmost violence, it was split asunder; yet the religious inscriptions on the wall beside it are uninjured. Such care in destruction is more than would be produced by a general hatred to a conquered race.

Again, at Gizeh, the diorite statues in the lower granite temple have been dashed down from their niches, and thrown into the well; but in the upper granite temple, by the Second Pyramid, the destruction is far more laborious and elaborate; the statues are broken into small chips; a single toe, or half a hieroglyph, is almost as much as can be found in one piece; the diorite and alabaster vessels are broken in shivers; and an imperfect cartouche is the greatest prize obtainable from the ruins.

Again, at Abu Roash, the king's diorite statue was not only broken up, but the surfaces were bruised to powder, and a block of the tough diorite was grooved round by chipping, so as to hold a rope by which it could be swung to and fro, until even the ends of it were shivered, and it was finally cracked in two. The granite coffer was burnt, and mostly ground to powder; while stray chips of basalt show that some other object existed which is quite unknown.

All this vehemence of destruction, this patient, hard-working vengeance, can scarcely be attributed to an age, or a people, which only knew of the kings as historical names. It is to the dark period of the seventh to the eleventh dynasties that we must rather look for the destroyers of the Old Kingdom monuments. The fourth, fifth, and sixth dynasties were one continuous and peaceful succession; and when that was broken up, apparently by civil war and rival dynasties, it would be highly probable that such personal spite, and intelligent wrath, would be shown by embittered revolutionists. A modern parallel to this vengeance was seen in the careful and painstaking clearance of the bodies of the French kings out of Saint-Denis, and the fate allotted to their monuments, in 1790; the latter were only saved from annihilation by the strenuous claim of Lenoir and others on behalf of the museum.6 

In later times there are some curious details of destruction at Karnak. The great fallen obelisk of Queen Hatasu has her name unerased on the top of it; but the name of the god Amen is erased. This shows that Khuenaten took means of erasing the name of Amen in places in which Tahutmes III. did not care to hunt down the name of Hatasu. Her name and portraits in the innermost chamber of her temple at Deir el Bahari were also not effaced; though in every other part they were cut away. On the standing obelisk of [p. 159] Hatasu at Karnak neither Amen nor Hatasu are erased. This suggests that the fallen obelisk may have been overthrown by Khuenaten, perhaps to destroy the name of Amen; and as it lies upon a high mound of fragments of the works of his predecessors, Tahutmes I. and Amenhotep III., it is not at all impossible that such was the case. It is, in fact, so curiously perched, exactly along the top of this mound of rubbish, as to suggest that the mound was placed to receive it, and perhaps it was broken by careless letting down. To Khuenaten, also, may well be due the careful abolition of the great temple of Amenhotep III at Thebes, of which but two colossi remain erect.

It may seem a strange idea that there should have been ruins lying about, while the Great Hall was being built close to them, by Seti I. and Ramessu II.; but it is certain that such was the case, In the pylon of Horemheb stones maybe found with defaced cartouches of Khuenaten on their inner sides; and the columns of the eastern temple of Ramessu II. are clearly built of ruined polygonal pillars of Tahutmes I., plastered over, and roughly fitted together. So, probably, ever since the dilapidation of the first temple of Usertasen, Karnak has always shown an increasing amount of ruins, often worked up into later buildings, which in their turn were ruined; the destruction being partly due to fanaticism, and partly to later builders, who would worship their predecessors while destroying their works; somewhat in the spirit of Caracalla, who defied Geta, saying, "Let him be a god, provided he is not alive."

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120. The accuracy of the descriptions of the Greek travellers deserves notice, as they are often much more accurate in their facts than modern writers. Herodotus7  states the base of the Great Pyramid to be 8 plethra, or 800 feet, and it is actually 747 Greek feet; so that he is as accurate as he professes to be, within about half a plethron. The height he states to be equal to the base; and the diagonal height of the corner (which would certainly be the way of measuring it, and was the later Egyptian mode of reckoning) is 19/20 of the base, or quite as close as the statement professes. The name of the builder is given almost unaltered, Kheopa for Khufu. In describing the Second Pyramid, he states it to be 40 feet less in height than the Great Pyramid; the difference is not quite so great, but the historian's error is only 1/27 of the whole height. He is quite correct in saying that the foundations were of Ethiopian stone, i.e., red granite. Of the Third Pyramid, the statement, apparently so precise, that the base was 280 feet seems in error. It is over 340 Greek feet, and such a difference could hardly be a mere oversight. It is just possible that this measure refers to the base of the limestone part, which [p. 160] was about 275 of such feet as go 800 in the Great Pyramid base. Of the Third Pyramid casing, he says that "half of it consists of Ethiopian stone"; and actually about; 7/16 of the casing was of granite. The Rhodopis story seems akin to the ruddy Nitokris of Manetho; and there is a curious possibility of the whole description of Nitokris having been transferred from the Pyramid itself to the ruler who built it.

Diodorus Siculus states the distance of the Pyramids from the Nile with greater accuracy than we can now settle the ancient position of the river-bank. The base of the Great Pyramid he gives as 7 plethra, or 700 Greek feet, as against 747 such feet in reality; hence he is accurate to less than half a plethron. The height, he says, is more than 6 plethra; the arris height is actually just over 7 plethra, when complete. He mentions the fine preservation of the stone, and that the original jointing was uninjured by time, showing that the fine joints attracted his attention. The Second Pyramid he only roughly describes as a stadium wide; but this is not far wrong, as it is 7/6 stadia. The Third Pyramid he underrates as 300 feet long, whereas it is 340 Greek feet; if however, he originally wrote 3 plethra, he would be correct to less than half a plethron, as he is in the Great Pyramid size. It is noticeable that he slightly underrates all the Pyramids, his statements being respectively .94, .87, and .88 of the truth. He states that the sides up to the 15th course were of black stone; actually it seems probable that the dark red granite ended at the 16th course : and he says that the upper part was cased with the same stone as the other Pyramids, which is plainly true to anyone who sees the angular fragments lying thickly around it. Though Vyse was disappointed at not finding the name of Menkaura inscribed over the doorway, yet Diodorus only says that it was on the N. side of the Pyramid; hence it was probably on the fine limestone above the granite.

Strabo's account is less careful in the dimensions, merely giving roughly a stadium for the height and base of each of the larger Pyramids, and saying that one is a little larger than the other. As these dimensions vary from .85 to 1.25 stadia, he is, at least, quite as accurate as he professes to be. He gives the invaluable description of the Great Pyramid doorway, which (as will be seen In sect. 126) so exactly accords with the only remaining doorway of a pyramid. He also mentions the Third Pyramid being cased nearly up to the middle with black stone from Ethiopia.

Pliny gives a more exact measurement than any other ancient author, stating the Great Pyramid base as 883 feet. This would require a foot of 10.2705 inches; and this is just half of the cubit of 20.541, or a rather short form of the Egyptian cubit, Taking the mean cubit, we cannot tax him with a greater error than 1/230 of the whole, which is quite as close as some of the most credible measures taken in this century.

[p. 161] Thus we see that there is in these historians an honesty and correctness in their descriptions, and a fulfilment of the amount of accuracy which they profess, which it would have been well for many — perhaps for most — modern writers to have imitated.

The clear and unexaggerated account of the passages of the Great Pyramid given by Edresi, in 1236 A.D., deserves notice for its superiority to the greater number of Arabic accounts.

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NOTES:     (Use browser back button to return.)

1. Excepting some on the anomolous little Pyramid at Riga, of the 5th dynasty.

2. Herodotus.

3. Manetho.

4. Sent is sometimes named by a fish, a determinative without hieroglyphics; and An sometimes has a fish as a determinative in the name; but there is no case of a determinative prefixed.

5. Here, again, Herodotus retains the final vowel, though adding a nasal in Khefrena.

6. See the Procès-verbal  in "Monographie de l'Eglise de Saint-Denis," par le Bon. De Guilhermy, 1848.

7. The accuracy with which Herodotus states what he saw, and relates what he heard; the criticism he often applies to his materials; and the care with which he distinguishes how much belief he gives to each report; — all this should prevent our ever discrediting his words unless compelled to do so.

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