HISTORY OF EGYPT
From 330 B.C. to the Present Time
By S. RAPPOPORT, Doctor of Philosophy, Basel; Member of the Ecole Langues Orientales, Paris; Russian, German, French Orientalist and Philologist
Containing over Twelve Hundred Colored Plates and Illustrations
THE GROLIER SOCIETY
Dam at Aswan
THE ROMAN, CHRISTIAN, AND ARABIC PERIODS
THE ROMAN ADMINISTRATION IN EGYPT—THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY—THE ARIAN CONTROVERSY—THE GROWTH OF MONASTICISM—THE DECLINE OF ALEXANDRIA—THE ARAB INVASION AND THE SPREAD OF MUHAMMEDANISM—THE ARAB DYNASTIES.
Augustus remodels the government of Egypt—A new calendar introduced—Egypt surveyed—Dissension between Jews and Greeks at Alexandria—Strabo's visit—The Egyptian religion at Rome—Wise administration of Tiberius—The rise of the Therapeutae—Lake Maeris destroyed—The origin of Chemistry—The fable of the Phoenix—Christianity introduced—Fiscal reforms under Galba—Vespasian in Egypt—Fall of Jerusalem—The Nile Canal restored—Hadrian's voyage up the Nile—Death of Antinous—Christians and Gnostics—Astrology and Astronomy—Roman roads in Egypt—Commerce and Sports—The Growth of Christianity—Severus visits Egypt—The massacre of the Alexandrians—Ammonius Saccas and the Alexandrian Platonists—The School of Origen—Rise of Controversy—Decline of Commerce—Zenobia in Syria—Growing importance of the Arabs—Revolt and recapture of Alexandria—Persecution of the Christians under Diocletian—Introduction of the Manichean heresy.
Constantine the Great converted—Privileges of the clergy—Dogmatic disputes—Council of Nicaea and the first Nicene Creed—Athanasian and Arian controversies—Founding of Constantinople—Decline of Alexandria—Imperial appointments in the Church—Religious riots—Triumphs of Athanasius—Persecution by Bishop George of Cappadocia—Early mission work—Development of the monastic system—Text of the Bible—The monks and military service—Saracenic encroachments—Theodosius overthrows Paganism—Destruction of the Great Library—Pagan and Christian literature—Story of Hypatia—The Arabs defeat the Romans—The Koptic New Testament—Egypt separated from Rome—The Council of Chalcedon—Paganism restored in Upper Egypt—The Henoticon—The writings of Hierocles—Relations with Persia—Inroads of the Arabs—Justinian's fiscal reforms—Coinage restored—The Persians enter Egypt. The Life of Muhammed—Amr conquers Egypt—The legend of Omar and the Great Library—The founding of Fostat—The Christians taxed—Muhammedan oppression in Egypt—The Ommayad and Abbasid dynasties—Caliph Harun er-Rashid—Turkish bodyguards—Rise of the Tulunite Dynasty—Office of Prince of Princes—Reign of Muhammed el-Ikshid—War with Byzantium—Fatimite Caliphs—The Ismailians and Mahdism—Reign of Mustanssir—Turkish Rapacity—End of the Fatimite Rule.
CHAPTER I—EGYPT UNDER THE ROMAN EMPIRE
The Roman dominion on the Nile: Settlement of the Egyptian frontiers: Religious developments: Rebellions.
Augustus began his reign in Egypt in B.C. 30 by ordering all the statues of Antony, of which there were more than fifty ornamenting the various public buildings of the city, to be broken to pieces; and it is said he had the meanness to receive a bribe of one thousand talents from Archibus, a friend of Cleopatra, that the queen's statues might be left standing. It seems to have been part of his kingcraft to give the offices of greatest trust to men of low birth, who were at the same time well aware that they owed their employments to their seeming want of ambition. Thus the government of Egypt, the greatest and richest of the provinces, was given to Cornelius Gallus.
Before the fall of the republic the senate had given the command of the provinces to members of their own body only; and therefore Augustus, not wishing to alter the law, obtained from the senate for himself all those governments which he meant to give to men of lower rank. By this legal fiction, these equestrian prefects were answerable for their conduct to nobody but the emperor on a petition, and they could not be sued at law before the senate for their misdeeds. But he made an exception in the case of Egypt. While on the one hand in that province he gave to the prefect's edicts the force of law, on the other he allowed him to be cited before the senate, though appointed by himself. The power thus given to the senate they never ventured to use, and the prefect of Egypt was never punished or removed but by the emperor. Under the prefect was the chief justice of the province, who heard himself, or by deputy, all causes except those which were reserved for the decision of the emperor in person. These last were decided by a second judge, or in modern language a chancellor, as they were too numerous and too trifling to be taken to Rome. Under these judges were numerous freedmen of the emperor, and clerks entrusted with affairs of greater and less weight. Of the native magistrates the chief were the keeper of the records, the police judge, the prefect of the night, and the Exegetes, or interpreter of the Egyptian law, who was allowed to wear a purple robe like a Roman magistrate. But these Egyptian magistrates were never treated as citizens; they were barbarians, little better than slaves, and only raised to the rank of the emperor's freedmen.
Augustus showed not a little jealousy in the rest of the laws by which his new province was to be governed. While other conquered cities usually had a senate or municipal form of government granted to them, no city in Egypt was allowed that privilege, which, by teaching the citizens the art of governing themselves and the advantages of union, might have made them less at the mercy of their masters. He not only gave the command of the kingdom to a man below the rank of a senator, but ordered that no senator should even be allowed to set foot in Egypt without leave from himself; and centuries later, when the weakness of the country had led the emperors to soften some of the other stern laws of Augustus, this was still strictly enforced.
Among other changes then brought in by the Romans was the use of a fixed year in all civil reckonings. The Egyptians, for all the common purposes of life, called the day of the heliacal rising of the dogstar, about our 18th of July, their new year's day, and the husbandman marked it with religious ceremonies as the time when the Nile began to overflow; while for all civil purposes, and dates of kings' reigns, they used a year of three hundred and sixty-five days, which, of course, had a movable new year's day. But by the orders of Augustus all public deeds were henceforth dated by the new year of three hundred and sixty-five days and a quarter, which was named, after Julius Caesar, the Julian year. The years from B.C. 24 were made to begin on the 29th of August, the day on which the movable new year's day then happened to fall, and were numbered from the year following the last of Cleopatra, as from the first year of the reign of Augustus. But notwithstanding the many advantages of the Julian year, which was used throughout Europe for sixteen centuries, till its faultiness was pointed out by Pope Gregory XIII., the Egyptian astronomers and mathematicians distrusted it from the first, and chose to stick to their old year, in which there could be no mistake about its length. Thus there were at the same time three years and three new year's days in use in Egypt: one about the 18th of July, used by the common people; one on the 29th of August, used by order of the emperor; and one movable, used by the astronomers.
By the conquest of Egypt, Augustus was also able to extend another of the plans of his late uncle. Julius Caesar, whose powerful mind found all sciences within its grasp, had ordered a survey to be taken of the whole of the Roman provinces, and the length of all the roads to be measured for the use of the tax-gatherers and of the army; and Augustus was now able to add Egypt to the survey. Polyclitus was employed on this southern portion of the empire; and, after thirty-two years from its beginning by Julius, the measurement of nearly the whole known world was finished and reported to the senate.
At Alexandria Augustus was visited by Herod, who hastened to beg of him those portions of his kingdom which Antony had given to Cleopatra. Augustus received him as a friend; gave him back the territory which Antony had taken from him, and added the province of Samaria and the free cities on the coast. He also gave to him the body of four hundred Gauls, who formed part of the Egyptian army and had been Cleopatra's bodyguard. He thus removed from Alexandria the last remains of the Gallic mercenaries, of whom the Ptolemies had usually had a troop in their service.
Augustus visited the royal burial-place to see the body of Alexander, and devoutly added a golden crown and a garland of flowers to the other ornaments on the sarcophagus of the Macedonian. But he would take no pains to please either the Alexandrians or Egyptians; he despised them both. When asked if he would not like to see the Alexandrian monarchs lying in their mummy-cases in the same tomb, he answered: "No, I came to see the king, not dead men," His contempt for Cleopatra and her father made him forget the great qualities of Ptolemy Soter. So when he was at Memphis he refused to humour the national prejudice of two thousand years' standing by visiting the bull Apis. Of the former conquerors, Cambyses had stabbed the sacred bull, Alexander had sacrificed to it; had Augustus had the violent temper of either, he would have copied Cambyses. The Egyptians always found the treatment of the sacred bull a foretaste of what they were themselves to receive from their sovereigns.
The Greeks of Alexandria, who had for some time past very unwillingly yielded to the Jews the right of citizenship, now urged upon Augustus that it should no longer be granted. Augustus, however, had received great services from the Jews, and at once refused the prayer; and he set up in Alexandria an inscription granting to the Jews the full privileges of Macedonians, which they claimed and had hitherto enjoyed under the Ptolemies. They were allowed their own magistrates and courts of justice, with the free exercise of their own religion; and soon afterwards, when their high priest died, they were allowed as usual to choose his successor. The Greek Jews of Alexandria were indeed very important, both from their numbers and their learning; they spread over Syria and Asia Minor: they had a synagogue in Jerusalem in common with the Jews of Cyrene and Libya; and we find that one of the chief teachers of Christianity after the apostles was Apollos, the Alexandrian, who preached the new religion in Ephesus, in Corinth, and in Crete.
On his return to Rome, Augustus carried with him the whole of the royal treasure; and though perhaps there might have been less gold and silver than usual in the palace of the Ptolemies, still it was so large a sum that when, upon the establishment of peace over all the world, the rate of interest upon loans fell in Rome, and the price of land rose, the change was thought to have been caused by the money from Alexandria. At the same time were carried away the valuable jewels, furniture, and ornaments, which had been handed down from father to son, with the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. These were drawn in waggons through the streets of Rome in triumph; and with them were shown in chains to the wondering crowd Alexander Helius and Cleopatra Selene, the children of Cleopatra and Antony.
Augustus threatened a severe punishment to the Alexandrians in the building of a new capital. Only four miles from the Canopic or eastern gate of Alexandria he laid out the plan of his new city of Meopolis, on the spot where he had routed Mark Antony's forces. Here he began several large temples, and removed to them the public sacrifices and the priesthood from the temples of Alexandria. But the work was carried no farther, and soon abandoned; and the only change made by it in Alexandria was that the temple of Serapis and the other temples were for a time deserted.
The rest of the world had long been used to see their finest works of art carried away by their conquerors; and the Egyptians soon learned that, if any of the monuments of which they were so justly proud were to be left to them, it would only be because they were too heavy to be moved by the Roman engineers. Beside many other smaller Egyptian works, two of the large obelisks, which even now ornament Rome, were carried away by Augustus, that of Thutmosis IV., which stands in the Piazza del Popolo, and that of Psammetichus, on Monte Citorio.
Cornelius Gallus, the prefect of Egypt, seems either to have misunderstood, or soon forgotten, the terms of his appointment. He set up statues of himself in the cities of Egypt, and, copying the kings of the country, he carved his name and deeds upon the pyramids. On this Augustus recalled him, and he killed himself to avoid punishment. The emperor's wish to check the tyranny of the prefects and tax-gatherers was strongly marked in the case of the champion fighting-cock. The Alexandrians bred these birds with great care, and eagerly watched their battles in the theatre. A powerful cock, that had hitherto slain all its rivals and always strutted over the table unconquered, had gained a great name in the city; and this bird, Eros, a tax-gatherer, roasted and ate. Augustus, on hearing of this insult to the people, sent for the man, and, on his owning what he had done, ordered him to be crucified. Three legions and nine cohorts were found force enough to keep this great kingdom in quiet obedience to their new masters; and when Heroopolis revolted, and afterwards when a rebellion broke out in the Thebaid against the Roman tax-gatherers, these risings were easily crushed. The spirit of the nation, both of the Greeks and Egyptians, seems to have been wholly broken; and Petronius, who succeeded Cornelius Gallus, found no difficulty in putting down a rising of the Alexandrians.
The canals, through which the overflowing waters of the Nile were carried to the more distant fields, were, of course, each year more or less blocked up by the same mud which made the fields fruitful; and the clearing of these canals was one of the greatest boons that the monarch could bestow upon the tillers of the soil. This had often been neglected by the less powerful and less prudent kings of Egypt, in whose reigns the husbandman believed that Heaven in its displeasure withheld part of the wished-for overflow; but Petronius employed the leisure of his soldiers on this wise and benevolent work. In order better to understand the rise of the Nile, to fix the amount of the land-tax, and more fairly to regulate the overflow through the canals, the Nilometer on the Island of Elephantine was at this time made.
It was under AElius Gallus, the third prefect, that Egypt was visited by Strabo, the most careful and judicious of all the ancient travellers. He had come to study mathematics, astronomy, and geography in the museum, under the successors of Euclid, Eratosthenes, and Hipparchus. He accompanied the prefect in a march to Syene (Aswan), the border town, and he has left us a valuable account of the state of the country at that time. Alexandria was the chief object that engaged his attention. Its two harbours held more ships than were to be seen in any other port in the world, and its export trade was thought greater than that of all Italy. The docks on each side of the causeway, and the ship canal, from the harbour of Eunostus to the Mareotic Lake, were full of bustle and activity. The palace or citadel on the promontory of Lochias on one side of the great harbour was as striking an object as the lighthouse on the other. The temples and palaces covered a space of ground equal to more than one-fourth part of the city, and the suburbs reached even beyond the Mareotic Lake. Among the chief buildings were the Soma, which held the bodies of Alexander and of the Ptolemies; the court of justice; the museum of philosophy, which had been rebuilt since the burning by Caesar's soldiers; the exchange, crowded with merchants, the temple of Neptune, and Mark Antony's fortress, called the Timonium, on a point of land which jutted into the harbour; the Caesarium, or new palace; and the great temple of Serapis, which was on the western side of the city, and was the largest and most ornamented of all these buildings. Farther off was the beautiful gymnasium for wrestlers and boxers, with its porticoes of a stadium in length, where the citizens used to meet in public assembly. From the top of the temple of Pan, which rose like a sugar-loaf in the middle of the city, and was mounted by a winding staircase, the whole of this remarkable capital might be seen spread out before the eye. On the east of the city was the circus, for chariot races, and on the west lay the public gardens and pale green palm-groves, and the Necropolis ornamenting the roadside with tombs for miles along the seashore. Other tombs were in the catacombs underground on the same side of the city. The banks of the Mareotic Lake were fringed with vineyards, which bore the famed wine of the same name, and which formed a pleasant contrast with the burning whiteness of the desert beyond. The canal from the lake to the Nile marked its course through the plain by the greater freshness of the green along its banks. In the distance were the new buildings of Augustus' city of Nicopolis. The arts of Greece and the wealth of Egypt had united to adorn the capital of the Ptolemies. Heliopolis, the ancient seat of Egyptian learning, had never been wholly repaired since its siege by Cambyses, and was then almost a deserted city. Its schools were empty, its teachers silent; but the houses in which Plato and his friend Eudoxus were said to have dwelt and studied were pointed out to the traveller, to warm his love of knowledge and encourage him in the pursuit of virtue. Memphis was the second city in Egypt, while Thebes and Abydos, the former capitals, had fallen to the size and rank of villages. At Memphis Strabo saw the bull-fights in the circus, and was allowed to look at the bull Apis through a window of his stable. At Crocodilopolis he saw the sacred crocodile caught on the banks of the lake and fed with cakes and wine. Ptolemais, which was at first only an encampment of Greek soldiers, had risen under the sovereigns to whom it owed its name to be the largest city in the Thebaid, and scarcely less than Memphis. It was built wholly by the Greeks, and, like Alexandria, it was under Greek laws, while the other cities in Egypt were under Egyptian laws and magistrates. It was situated between Panopolis and Abydos; but, while the temples of Thebes, which were built so many centuries earlier, are still standing in awful grandeur, scarcely a trace of this Greek city can be found in the villages of El Menshieh and Girgeh (Cerkasoros), which now stand on the spot. Strabo and the Roman generals did not forget to visit the broken colossal statue of Amenhothes, near Thebes, which sent forth its musical sounds every morning, as the sun, rising over the Arabian hills, first shone upon its face; but this inquiring traveller could not make up his mind whether the music came from the statue, or the base, or the people around it. He ended his tour with watching the sunshine at the bottom of the astronomical well at Syene, which, on the longest day, is exactly under the sun's northern edge, and with admiring the skill of the boatmen who shot down the cataracts in their wicker boats, for the amusement of the Roman generals.
In the earlier periods of Egyptian history Ethiopia was peopled, or, at least, governed, by a race of men, whom, as they spoke the same language and worshipped the same gods as their neighbours of Upper Egypt, we must call the Kopts. But the Arabs, under the name of Troglodyte, and other tribes, had made an early settlement on the African side of the Red Sea. So numerous were they in Upper Egypt that in the time of Strabo half the population of the city of Koptos were Arabs; they were the camel-drivers and carriers for the Theban merchants in the trade across the desert. Some of the conquests of Ramses had been over that nation in southern Ethiopia, and the Arab power must have further risen after the defeat of the Ethiopians by Euergetes I. Ethiopia in the time of Augustus was held by Arabs; a race who thought peace a state of disgraceful idleness, and war the only employment worthy of men; and who made frequent hasty inroads into Nubia, and sometimes into Egypt. They fought for plunder, not for conquest, and usually retreated as quickly as they came, with such booty as they laid their hands on. To use words which were proverbial while the Nile swarmed with crocodiles, "They did as the dogs do, they drank and ran away;" and the Romans found it necessary to place a body of troops near the cataracts of Syene to stop their marching northward and laying waste the Thebaid. While the larger part of the Roman legions was withdrawn into Arabia on an unsuccessful quest for treasure, a body of thirty thousand of these men, whom we may call either Arabs, from their blood and language, or Ethiopians, from their country, marched northward into Egypt, and overpowered the three Roman cohorts at Elephantine, Syene, and Philas. Badly armed and badly trained, they were led on by the generals of Candace, Queen of Napata, to the fourth cataract. They were, however, easily driven back when Gallus led against them an army of ten thousand men, and drove them to Ethiopian Pselchis, now remaining as the modern village of Dakkeh. There he defeated them again, and took the city by storm. From Pselchis he marched across the Nubian desert two hundred and fifty miles to Premnis, on the northerly bend of the river, and then made himself master of Napata, the capital. A guard was at the moment left in the country to check any future inroads; but the Romans made no attempts to hold it.
Of the state of the Ethiopie Arabs under Queen Candace we learn but little from this hasty inroad; but some of the tribes must have been very far from the barbarians that, from their ignorance of the arts of war, the Romans judged them to be. Those nearest to the Egyptian frontiers, the Troglodyte and Blemmyes, were unsettled, wandering, and plundering; but the inhabitants of Meroe were of a more civilised race. The Jews had settled in southern Ethiopia in large numbers, and for a long time; Solomon's trade had made them acquainted with Adule and Auxum; some of them were employed in the highest offices, and must have brought with them the arts of civilised life. A few years later (Acts VIII. 27) we meet with a Jewish eunuch, the treasurer of Queen Candace, travelling with some pomp from Ethiopia to the religious festivals at Jerusalem. The Egyptian coins of Augustus and his successors are all Greek; the conquest of the country by the Romans made no change in its language. Though the chief part of the population spoke Koptic, it was still a Greek province of the Roman empire; the decrees of the prefects of Alexandria and of the upper provinces were written in Greek; and every Roman traveller, who, like a schoolboy, has scratched his name upon the foot of the musical statue of Amenhothes, to let the world know the extent of his travels, has helped to prove that the Roman government of the country was carried on in the Greek language. The coins often bear the eagle and thunderbolt on one side, while on the other is the emperor's head, with his name and titles; and, after a few years, they are all dated with the year of the emperor's reign. In the earliest he is styled a Son of God, in imitation of the Egyptian title of Son of the Sun. After Egypt lost its liberty, we no longer find any gold coinage in the country; that metal, with everything else that was most costly, was carried away to pay the Roman tribute. This was chiefly taken in money, except, indeed, the tax on grain, which the Egyptian kings had always received in kind, and which was still gathered in the same way, and each year shipped to Rome, to be distributed among the idle poor of that great city. At this time it amounted to twenty millions of bushels, which was four times what was levied in the reign of Philadelphus. The trade to the east was increasing, but as yet not large. About one hundred and twenty small vessels sailed every year to India from MyosHormos, which was now the chief port on the Red Sea.
No change was made in the Egyptian religion by this change of masters; and, though the means of the priests were lessened, they still carried forward the buildings which were in progress, and even began new ones. The small temple of Isis, at Tentyra, behind the great temple of Hathor, was either built or finished in this reign, and it was dedicated to the goddess, and to the honour of the emperor as Jupiter Liberator, in a Greek inscription on the cornice, in the thirty-first year of the reign, when Publius Octavius was prefect of the province.
The large temple at Talmis, in Nubia, was also then built, though not wholly finished; and we find the name of Augustus at Philae, on some of the additions to the temple of Isis, which had been built in the reign of Philadelphus. In the hieroglyphical inscriptions on these temples, Augustus is called Autocrator Caesar, and is styled Son of the Sun, King of Upper and Lower Egypt, with the other titles which had always been given by the priests to the Ptolemies and their own native sovereigns for so many centuries. These claims were evidently unknown in Rome, where the modesty of Augustus was almost proverbial.
The Greeks had at all times been forward in owning the Egyptians as their teachers in religion; and in the dog Cerberus, the judge Minos, the boat of Charon, and the river Styx of their mythology, we see a clear proof that it was in Egypt that the Greeks gained their faint glimpse of the immortality of the soul, a day of judgment, and a future state of rewards and punishments; and, now that Rome was in close intercourse with Egypt, the Romans were equally ready to borrow thence their religious ceremonies. They brought to Rome the Egyptian opinions with the statues of the gods. They ran into the new superstition to avoid the painful uneasiness of believing nothing, and, though the Romans ridiculed their own gods, they believed in those of Egypt. So fashionable was the worship of Isis and Serapis becoming in Italy, that Augustus made a law that no Egyptian ceremonies should enter the city or even the suburbs of Rome. His subjects might copy the luxuries, the follies, and the vices of the Alexandrians, but not the gloomy devotion of the Egyptians. But the spread of opinions was not so checked; even Virgil taught the doctrine of the Egyptian millennium, or the resurrection from the dead when the thousand years were ended; and the cripple asking for alms in the streets of Rome would beg in the name of the holy Osiris.
Egypt felt no change on the death of Augustus. The province was well governed during the whole of the reign of Tiberius, and the Alexandrians completed the beautiful temple to his honour, named the Sebaste, or Caesar's Temple. It stood by the side of the harbour, and was surrounded with a sacred grove. It was ornamented with porticoes, and fitted up with libraries, paintings, and statues, and was the most lofty building in the city. In front of this temple they set up two ancient obelisks, which had been made by Thutmosis III. and carved by Ramses II., and which, like the other monuments of the Theban kings, have outlived all the temples and palaces of their Greek and Roman successors. These obelisks are now generally known as "Cleopatra's Needles." One of them, in 1878, was taken to London and set up on the Thames Embankment; the other was soon afterward brought to New York, and is now in Central Park in that city. It is sixty-seven feet high to its sharpened apex, and seven feet, seven inches in diameter at its base. On its face are deeply incised inscriptions in hieroglyphic character, giving the names Thutmosis III., Ramses II., and Seti II.
The harsh justice with which Tiberius began his reign was at Rome soon changed into a cruel tyranny; but in the provinces it was only felt as a check to the injustice of the prefects. On one occasion, when AEmilius Rectus sent home from Egypt a larger amount of taxes than was usual, he hoped that his zeal would be praised by Tiberius. But the emperor's message to the prefect was as stern as it was humane: "I should wish my sheep to be sheared, but not to be flayed." On the death of one of the prefects, there was found among his property at Rome a statue of Menelaus, carved in Ethiopian obsidian, which had been used in the religious ceremonies in the temple of Heliopolis, and Tiberius returned it to the priests of that city as its rightful owners. Another proof of the equal justice with which this province was governed was to be seen in the buildings then carried on by the priests in Upper Egypt. We find the name of Tiberius carved in hieroglyphics on additions or repairs made to the temples at Thebes, at Aphroditopolis, at Berenice, on the Red Sea, at Philae, and at the Greek city of Parembole, in Nubia. The great portico was at this time added to the temple at Tentyra, with an inscription dedicating it to the goddess in Greek and in hieroglyphics. As a building is often the work of years, while sculpture is only the work of weeks, so the fashion of the former is always far less changing than that of the latter. The sculptures on the walls of this beautiful portico are crowded and graceless; while, on the other hand, the building itself has the same grand simplicity and massive strength that we find in the older temples of Upper Egypt.
We cannot but admire the zeal of the Egyptians by whom this work was then finished. They were treated as slaves by their Greek fellow-countrymen; their houses were ransacked every third year by military authority in search of arms; they could have had no help from their Roman masters, who only drained the province of its wealth; and the temple had perhaps never been heard of by the emperor, who could have been little aware that the most lasting monument of his reign was being raised in the distant province of Egypt.
The priests of the other parts of the country sent gifts out of their poverty in aid of this pious work; and among the figures on the walls we see those of forty cities, from Semneh, at the second cataract, to Memphis and Sais, in the Delta, each presenting an offering to the god of the temple.
In the third year of this reign Germanicus Caesar, who, much against his will, had been sent into the East as governor, found time to leave his own province, and to snatch a hasty view of the time-honoured buildings of Egypt. Descending the river to Thebes, and, while gazing on the huge remains of the temples, he asked the priests to read to him the hieroglyphical writing on the walls. He was told that it recounted the greatness of the country in the time of King Ramses, when there were seven hundred thousand Egyptians of an age to bear arms; and that with these troops Ramses had conquered the Libyans, Ethiopians, Medes, Persians, Bactrians, Scythians, Syrians, Armenians, Cappadocians, Bithynians, and Lycians. He was also told the tributes laid upon each of those nations; the weight of gold and silver, the number of chariots and horses, the gifts of ivory and scents for the temples, and the quantity of grain which the conquered provinces sent to feed the population of Thebes. After listening to the musical statue of Amenhothes, Germanicus went on to Elephantine and Syene; and, on his return, he turned aside to the pyramids and the Lake of Mceris, which regulated the overflow of the Nile on the neighbouring fields. At Memphis, Germanicus consulted the sacred bull Apis as to his future fortune, and met with an unfavourable answer. The manner of consulting Apis was for the visitor to hold out some food in his hand, and the answer was understood to be favourable if the bull turned his head to eat, but unfavourable if he looked another way. When Germanicus accordingly held out a handful of grain, the well-fed animal turned his head sullenly towards the other side of his stall; and on the death of this young prince, which shortly followed, the Egyptians did not forget to praise the bull's foresight. This blameless and seemingly praiseworthy visit of Germanicus did not, however, escape the notice of the jealous Tiberius. He had been guilty of gaining the love of the people by walking about without guards, in a plain Greek dress, and of lowering the price of grain in a famine by opening the public granaries; and Tiberius sternly reproached him with breaking the known law of Augustus, by which no Roman citizen of consular or even of equestrian rank might enter Alexandria without leave from the emperor.
There were at this time about a million of Jews in Egypt. In Alexandria they seem to have been about one-third of the population, as they formed the majority in two wards out of the five into which the city was divided. They lived under their own elders and Sanhedrim, going up at their solemn feasts to worship in their own temple at Onion; but, from their mixing with the Greeks, they had become less strict than their Hebrew brethren in their observance of the traditions. Some few of them, however, held themselves in obedience to the Sanhedrim in Jerusalem, and looked upon the temple of Jerusalem as the only Jewish temple; and these men were in the habit of sending an embassy on the stated solemn feasts of the nation to offer the appointed sacrifices and prayers to Jahveh in the holy city on their behalf. But though the decree by Caesar, which declared that the Jews were Alexandrian citizens, was engraved on a pillar in the city, yet they were by no means treated as such, either by the government, or by the Greeks, or by the Egyptians.
When, during the famine, the public granaries seemed unable to supply the whole city with food, even the humane Germanicus ordered that the Jews, like the Egyptians, should have no share of the gift. They were despised even by the Egyptians themselves, who, to insult them, said that the wicked god Typhon had two sons, Hierosolymus and Judaeus, and that from these the Jews were descended.
In the neighbourhood of Alexandria, on a hill near the shores of the Lake Mareotis, was a little colony of Jews, who, joining their own religion with the mystical opinions and gloomy habits of the Egyptians, have left us one of the earliest known examples of the monastic life. They bore the name of Therapeutae. They had left, says Philo, their worldly wealth to their families or friends; they had forsaken wives, children, brethren, parents, and the society of men, to bury themselves in solitude and pass their lives in the contemplation of the divine essence. Seized by this heavenly love, they were eager to enter upon the next world, as though they were already dead to this. Every one, whether man or woman, lived alone in his cell or monastery, caring for neither food nor raiment, but having his thoughts wholly turned to the Law and the Prophets, or to sacred hymns of their own composing. They had their God always in their thoughts, and even the broken sentences which they uttered in their dreams were treasures of religious wisdom. They prayed every morning at sunrise, and then spent the day in turning over the sacred volumes, and the commentaries, which explained the allegories, or pointed out a secondary meaning as hidden beneath the surface of even the historical books of the Old Testament. At sunset they again prayed, and then tasted their first and only meal. Selfdenial indeed was the foundation of all their virtues. Some made only three meals in the week, that their meditations might be more free; while others even attempted to prolong their fast to the sixth day. During six days of the week they saw nobody, not even one another. On the seventh day they met together in the synagogue. Here they sat, each according to his age; the women separated from the men. Each wore a plain, modest robe, which covered the arms and hands, and they sat in silence while one of the elders preached. As they studied the mystic powers of numbers, they thought the number seven was a holy number, and that seven times seven made a great week, and hence they kept the fiftieth day as a solemn festival. On that day they dined together, the men on one side and the women on the other. The rushy papyrus formed the couches; bread was their only meat, water their drink, salt the seasoning, and cresses the delicacy. They would keep no slaves, saying that all men were born equal. Nobody spoke, unless it was to propose a question out of the Old Testament, or to answer the question of another. The feast ended with a hymn of praise.
The ascetic Jews of Palestine, the Essenes on the banks of the Dead Sea, by no means, according to Philo, thus quitted the active duties of life; and it would seem that the Therapeutas rather borrowed their customs from the country in which they had settled, than from any sects of the Jewish nation. Some classes of the Egyptian priesthood had always held the same views of their religious duties. These Egyptian monks slept on a hard bed of palm branches, with a still harder wooden pillow for the head; they were plain in their dress, slow in walking, spare in diet, and scarcely allowed themselves to smile. They washed thrice a day, and prayed as often; at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset. They often fasted from animal food, and at all times refused many meats as unclean. They passed their lives alone, either in study or wrapped in religious thought. They never met one another but at set times, and were seldom seen by strangers. Thus, leaving to others the pleasures, wealth, and lesser prizes of this life, they received from them in return what most men value higher, namely, honour, fame, and power.
The Romans, like the Greeks, feeling but little partiality in favour of their own gods, were rarely guilty of intolerance against those of others; and would hardly have checked the introduction of a new religion unless it made its followers worse citizens. But in Rome, where every act of its civil or military authorities was accompanied with a religious rite, any slight towards the gods was a slight towards the magistrate; many devout Romans had begun to keep holy the seventh day; and Egypt was now so closely joined to Italy that the Roman senate made a new law against the Egyptian and Jewish superstitions, and, in A.D. 19, banished to Sardinia four thousand men who were found guilty of being Jews.
Egypt had lost with its liberties its gold coinage, and it was now made to feel a further proof of being a conquered country in having its silver much alloyed with copper. But Tiberius, in the tenth year of his reign, altogether stopped the Alexandrian mint, as well as those of the other cities which occasionally coined; and after this year we find no more coins, but the few with the head and name of Augustus Caesar, which seem hardly to have been meant for money, but to commemorate on some peculiar occasions the emperor's adoption by his stepfather. The Nubian gold mines were probably by this time wholly deserted; they had been so far worked out as to be no longer profitable. For fifteen hundred years, ever since Ethiopia was conquered by Thebes, wages and prices had been higher in Egypt than in the neighbouring countries. But this was now no longer the case. Egypt had been getting poorer during the reigns of the latter Ptolemies; and by this time it is probable that both wages and prices were higher in Rome.
It seems to have been usual to change the prefect of Egypt every few years, and the prefect-elect was often sent to Alexandria to wait till his predecessor's term of years had ended. Thus in this reign of twenty-three years AEmilius Rectus was succeeded by Vetrasius Pollio; and on his death Tiberius gave the government to his freedman Iberus. During the last five years Egypt was under the able but stern government of Flaccus Avillius, whose name is carved on the temple of Tentyra with that of the emperor. He was a man who united all those qualities of prudent forethought, with prompt execution and attention to business, which was so necessary in controlling the irritable Alexandrians, who were liable to be fired into rebellion by the smallest spark. Justice was administered fairly; the great were not allowed to tyrannise over the poor, nor the people to meet in tumultuous mobs; and the legions were regularly paid, so that they had no excuse for plundering the Egyptians.
On the death of Tiberius, in A.D. 37, the old quarrel again broke out between Jews and Greeks. The Alexandrians were not slow in learning the feelings of his successor, Caius, or Caligula, towards the Jews, nor in turning against them the new law that the emperor's statue should be honoured in every temple of the empire. They had very unwillingly yielded a half-obedience to the law of Augustus that the Jews should still be allowed the privileges of citizenship; and, as soon as they heard that Caligula was to be worshipped in every temple of the empire, they denounced the Jews as traitors and rebels, who refused so to honour the emperor in their synagogues. It happened, unfortunately, that their countryman, King Agrippa, at this time came to Alexandria. He had full leave from the emperor to touch there, as being the quickest and most certain way of making the voyage from Rome to the seat of his own government. Indeed, the Alexandrian voyage had another merit in the eyes of a Jew; for, whereas wooden water-vessels were declared by the Law to be unclean, an exception was made by their tradition in favour of the larger size of the water-wells in the Alexandrian ships. Agrippa had seen Egypt before, on his way to Rome, and he meant to make no stay there; but, though he landed purposely after dark, and with no pomp or show, he seems to have raised the anger of the prefect Flaccus, who felt jealous at any man of higher rank than himself coming into his province. The Greeks fell into the prefect's humour, and during the stay of Agrippa in Alexandria they lampooned him in songs and ballads, of which the raillery was not of the most delicate kind. They mocked him by leading about the streets a poor idiot dressed up with a paper crown and a reed for a sceptre, in ridicule of his rather doubtful right to the style of royalty.
As these insults towards the emperor's friend passed wholly unchecked by the prefect, the Greeks next assaulted the Jews in the streets and market-place, attacked their houses, rooted up the groves of trees around their synagogues, and tore down the decree by which the privileges of citizenship had been confirmed to them. The Greeks then proceeded to set up by force a statue of the emperor in each Jewish synagogue, as if the new decree had included those places of worship among the temples, and, not finding statues enough, they made use of the statues of the Ptolemies, which they carried away from the gymnasium for that purpose. During the last reign, under the stern government of Tiberius, Flaccus had governed with justice and prudence, but under Caligula he seemed to have lost all judgment in his zeal against the Jews. When the riots in the streets could no longer be overlooked, instead of defending the injured party, he issued a decree in which he styled the Jews foreigners; thus at one word robbing them of their privileges and condemning them unheard. By this the Greeks were hurried forward into further acts of injustice, and the Jews of resistance. But the Jews were the weaker party: they were overpowered, and all driven into one ward, and four hundred of their houses in the other wards were plundered, and the spoil divided as if taken in war. They were stoned, and even burnt in the streets, if they ventured forth to buy food for their families. Flaccus seized and scourged in the theatre thirty-eight of their venerable councillors, and, to show them that they were no longer citizens, the punishment was inflicted by the hands of Egyptian executioners. While the city was in this state of riot, the Greeks gave out that the Jews were concealing arms; and Flaccus, to give them a fresh proof that they had lost the rights of citizenship, ordered that their houses should be forcibly entered and searched by a centurion and a band of soldiers.
During their troubles the Jews had not been allowed to complain to the emperor, or to send an embassy to Rome to make known their grievances. But the Jewish King Agrippa, who was on his way from Rome to his kingdom, forwarded to Caligula the complaints of his countrymen, the Jews, with an account of the rebellious state of Alexandria. The riots, it is true, had been wholly raised by the prefect's zeal in setting up the emperor's statue in the synagogues to be worshipped by the Jews, and in carrying into effect the emperor's decree; but, as he had not been able to keep his province quiet, it was necessary that he should be recalled, and punished for his want of success. To have found it necessary to call out the troops was of course a fault in a governor; but doubly so at a time and in a province where a successful general might so easily become a formidable rebel. Accordingly, a centurion, with a trusty cohort of soldiers, was sent from Rome for the recall of the prefect. On approaching the flat coast of Egypt, they kept the vessel in deep water till sunset, and then entered the harbour of Alexandria in the dark. The centurion, on landing, met with a freedman of the emperor, from whom he learned that the prefect was then at supper, entertaining a large company of friends. The freedman led the cohort quietly into the palace, into the very room where Flaccus was sitting at table; and the first tidings that he heard of his government being disapproved of in Rome was his finding himself a prisoner in his own palace. The friends stood motionless with surprise, the centurion produced the emperor's order for what he was doing, and as no resistance was attempted all passed off quietly; Flaccus was hurried on board the vessel then at anchor in the harbour on the same evening and immediately taken to Rome.
It so happened that on the night that Flaccus was seized, the Jews had met together to celebrate their autumnal feast, the feast of the Tabernacles: not as in former years with joy and pomp, but in fear, in grief, and in prayer. Their chief men were in prison, their nation smarting under its wrongs and in daily fear of fresh cruelties; and it was not without alarm that they heard the noise of soldiers moving to and fro through the city, and the heavy tread of the guards marching by torchlight from the camp to the palace. But their fear was soon turned into joy when they heard that Flaccus, the author of all their wrongs, was already a prisoner on board the vessel in the harbour; and they gave glory to God, not, says Philo, that their enemy was going to be punished, but because their own sufferings were at an end.
The Jews then, having had leave given them by the prefect, sent an embassy to Rome, at the head of which was Philo, the platonic philosopher, who was to lay their grievances before the emperor, and to beg for redress. The Greeks also at the same time sent their embassy, at the head of which was the learned grammarian Apion, who was to accuse the Jews of not worshipping the statue of the emperor, and to argue that they had no right to the same privileges of citizenship with those who boasted of their Macedonian blood. But, as the Jews did not deny the charge that was brought against them, Caligula would hear nothing that they had to say; and Philo withdrew with the remark, "Though the emperor is against us, God will be our friend."
We learn the sad tale of the Jews' suffering under Caligula from the pages of their own historian only. But though Philo may have felt and written as one of the sufferers, his truth is undoubted. He was a man of unblemished character, and the writer of greatest learning and of the greatest note at that time in Alexandria; being also of a great age, he well deserved the honour of being sent on the embassy to Caligula. He was in religion a Jew, in his philosophy a platonist, and by birth an Egyptian: and in his numerous writings we may trace the three sources from which he drew his opinions. He is always devotional and in earnest, full of pure and lofty thoughts, and often eloquent. His fondness for the mystical properties of numbers, and for finding an allegory or secondary meaning in the plainest narrative, seems borrowed from the Egyptians. According to the Eastern proverb every word in a wise book has seventy-two meanings; and this mode of interpretation was called into use by the necessity which the Jews felt of making the Old Testament speak a meaning more agreeable to their modern views of religion. In Philo's speculative theology he seems to have borrowed less from Moses than from the abstractions of Plato, whose shadowy hints he has embodied in a more solid form. He was the first Jewish writer that applied to the Deity the mystical notion of the Egyptians, that everything perfect was of three parts. Philo's writings are valuable as showing the steps by which the philosophy of Greece may be traced from the writings of Plato to those of Justin Martyr and Clemens Alexandrinus. They give us the earliest example of how the mystical interpretation of the Scriptures was formed into a system, by which every text was made to unfold some important philosophic or religious truth to the learned student, at the same time that to the unlearned reader it conveyed only the simple historic fact.
The Hellenistic Jews, while suffering under severe political disabilities, had taken up a high literary position in Alexandria, and had forced their opinions into the notice of the Greeks. The glowing earnestness of their philosophy, now put forward in a platonic dress, and heir improved style, approaching even classic elegance, laced their writings on a lofty eminence far above anything which the cold, lifeless grammarians of the museum were then producing. Apion, who went to Rome to plead against Philo, was a native of the Great Oasis, but as he was born of Greek parents, he claimed and received the title and privileges of an Alexandrian, which he denied to the Jews who were born in the city. He had studied under Didymus and Apollonius and Euphranor, and was one of the most laborious of the grammarians and editors of Homer. All his writings are now lost. Some of them were attacks upon the Jews and their religion, calling in question the truth of the Jewish history and the justice of that nation's claim to high antiquity; and to these attacks we owe Josephus' Answer, in which several valuable fragments of history are saved by being quoted against the pagans in support of the Old Testament. One of his works was his AEgyptiaca, an account of what he thought most curious in Egypt. But his learned trifling is now lost, and nothing remains of it but his account of the meeting between Androclus and the lion, which took place in the amphitheatre at Rome when Apion was there on his embassy. Androclus was a runaway slave, who, when retaken, was brought to Rome to be thrown before an African lion for the amusement of the citizens, and as a punishment for his flight. But the fierce and hungry beast, instead of tearing him to pieces, wagged his tail at him, and licked his feet. It seems that the slave, when he fled from his master, had gained the friendship of the lion in the Libyan desert, first by pulling a thorn out of his foot, and then by living three years with him in a cave; and, when both were brought in chains to Rome, Androclus found a grateful friend in the amphitheatre where he thought to have met with a cruel death.
We may for a moment leave our history, to bid a last farewell to the family of the Ptolemies. Augustus, after leading Selene, the daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, through the streets of Rome in his triumph, had given her in marriage to the younger Juba, the historian of Africa; and about the same time he gave to the husband the kingdom of Mauritania, the inheritance of his father. His son Ptolemy succeeded him on the throne, but was soon turned out of his kingdom. We trace the last of the Ptolemies in his travels through Greece and Asia Minor by the inscriptions remaining to his honour. The citizens of Xanthus in Lycia set up a monument to him; and at Athens his statue was placed beside that of Philadelphus in the gymnasium of Ptolemy, near the temple of Theseus, where he was honoured as of founder's kin. He was put to death by Caligula. Drusilla, another grandchild of Cleopatra and Antony, married Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judaea, after the death of his first wife, who was also named Drusilla. These are the last notices that we meet with of the royal family of Egypt.
As soon as the news of Caligula's death (A.D. 41) reached Egypt, the joy of the Jews knew no bounds. They at once flew to arms to revenge themselves on the Alexandrians, whose streets were again the seat of civil war. The governor did what he could to quiet both parties, but was not wholly successful till the decree of the new emperor reached Alexandria. In this Claudius granted to the Jews the full rights of citizenship, which they had enjoyed under the Ptolemies, and which had been allowed by Augustus; he left them to choose their own high priest, to enjoy their own religion without hindrance, and he repealed the laws of Caligula under which they had been groaning. At this time the Jewish alabarch in Egypt was Demetrius, a man of wealth and high birth, who had married Mariamne, the daughter of the elder Agrippa.
The government under Claudius was mild and just, at least as far as a government could be in which every tax-gatherer, every military governor, and every sub-prefect was supposed to enrich himself by his appointment. Every Roman officer, from the general down to the lowest tribune, claimed the right of travelling through the country free of expense, and seizing the carts and cattle of the villagers to carry him forward to the next town, under the pretence of being a courier on the public service. But we have a decree of the ninth year of this reign, carved on the temple in the Great Oasis, in which Cneius Capito, the prefect of Egypt, endeavours to put a stop to this injustice. He orders that no traveller shall have the privilege of a courier unless he has a proper warrant, and that then he shall only claim a free lodging; that clerks in the villages shall keep a register of all that is taken on account of the public service; and that if anybody make an unjust claim he shall pay four times the amount to the informer and six times the amount to the emperor. But royal decrees could do little or nothing where there were no judges to enforce them; and the people of Upper Egypt must have felt this law as a cruel insult when they were told that they might take up their complaints to Basilides, at Alexandria. The employment of the informer is a full acknowledgment of the weakness of this absolute government, and that the prefect had not the power to enforce his own decrees; and, when we compare this law with that of Alexander on his conquest of the country, we have no difficulty in seeing why Egypt rose under the Ptolemies and sunk under the selfish policy of Augustus.
Claudius was somewhat of a scholar and an author; he wrote several volumes both in Greek and in Latin. The former he might perhaps think would be chiefly valued in Alexandria; and when he founded a new college in that city, called after himself the Claudian Museum, he ordered that on given days every year his history of Carthage should be publicly read in one museum, and his history of Italy in the other; thus securing during his reign an attention to his writings which their merits alone would not have gained.
Under the government of Claudius the Egyptians were again allowed to coin money; and in his first year begins that historically important series in which every coin is dated with the year of the emperor's reign. The coins of the Ptolemies were strictly Greek in their workmanship, and the few Egyptian characters that we see upon them are so much altered by the classic taste of the die-engraver that we hardly know them again. But it is far otherwise with the coins of the emperors, which are covered with the ornaments, characters, and religious ceremonies of the native Egyptians; and, though the style of art is often bad, they are scarcely equalled by any series of coins whatever in the service they render to the historian.
It was in this reign that the route through Egypt to India first became really known to the Greeks and Romans. The historian Pliny, who died in 79 A.D., has left us a contemporary account of these early voyages. "It will not be amiss," he says in his Natural History, "to set forth the whole of the route from Egypt, which has been stated to us of late, upon information on which reliance may be placed and is here published for the first time. The subject is one well worthy of our notice, seeing that in no year does India drain our empire of less than five hundred and fifty millions of sesterces [or two million dollars], giving back her own wares in exchange, which are sold among us at fully one hundred times their cost price.
"Two miles distant from Alexandria is the town of Heliopolis. The distance thence to Koptos, up the Nile, is three hundred and eight miles; the voyage is performed, when the Etesian winds are blowing, in twelve days. From Koptos the journey is made with the aid of camels, stations being arranged at intervals for the supply of fresh water. The first of these stations is called Hydreuma, and is distant twenty-two miles; the second is situate on a mountain at a distance of one day's journey from the last; the third is at a second Hydreuma, distant from Koptos ninety-five miles; the fourth is on a mountain; the next to that is another Hydreuma, that of Apollo, and is distant from Koptos one hundred and eighty-four miles; after which there is another on a mountain; there is then another station at a place called the New Hydreuma, distant from Koptos two hundred and thirty miles; and next to it there is another called the Old Hydreuma, where a detachment is always on guard, with a caravansary that affords lodging for two thousand persons. The last is distant from the New Hydreuma seven miles. After leaving it, we come to the city of Berenice, situate upon a harbour of the Red Sea, and distant from Koptos two hundred and fifty-seven miles. The greater part of this distance is generally travelled by night, on account of the extreme heat, the day being spent at the stations; in consequence of which it takes twelve days to perform the whole journey from Koptos to Berenice.
"Passengers generally set sail at midsummer before the rising of the Dog-star, or else immediately after, and in about thirty days arrive at Ocelis in Arabia, or else at Cane, in the region which bears frankincense. To those who are bound for India, Ocelis is the best place for embarkation. If the wind called Hippolus happens to be blowing, it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest mart of India, Muziris by name [the modern Mangalore]. This, however, is not a very desirable place for disembarkation, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place, Mtrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in articles of merchandise. Besides, the roadstead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging. At the moment that I am writing these pages," continues Pliny, "the name of the king of the place is Caelobotras. Another part, and a much more convenient one, is that which lies in the territory of the people called Neacyndi, Barace by name. Here King Pandian used to reign, dwelling at a considerable distance from the mart in the interior, at a city known as Modiera. The district from which pepper is carried down to Barace in boats hollowed out of a single tree, is known as Cottonara. None of these names of nations, ports, and cities are to be found in any of the former writers, from which circumstance it would appear that the localities have since changed their names. Travellers set sail from India on their return to Europe, at the beginning of the Egyptian month Tybus, which is our December, or, at all events, before the sixth day of the Egyptian month Mechir, the same as our ides of January: if they do this, they can go and return in the same year. They set sail from India with a south-east wind, and, upon entering the Red Sea, catch the south-west or south."
The places on the Indian coast which the Egyptian merchant vessels then reached are verified from the coins found there; and as we know the course of the trade-wind by which they arrived, we also know the part of Africa where they left the shore and braved the dangers of the ocean. A hoard of Roman gold coins of these reigns has been dug up in our own days near Calicut, under the roots of a banyan-tree. It had been there buried by an Alexandrian merchant on his arrival from this voyage, and left safe under the cover of the sacred tree to await his return from a second journey. But he died before his return, and his secret died with him. The products of the Indian trade were chiefly silk, diamonds, and other precious stones, ginger, spices, and some scents. The state of Ethiopia was then such that no trade came down the Nile to Syene; and the produce of southern Africa was brought by coasting vessels to Berenice. These products were ivory, rhinoceros teeth, hippopotamus skins, tortoise shell, apes, monkeys, and slaves, a list which throws a sidelight both on the pursuits of the natives and the tastes of the ultimate purchasers.
The Romans in most cases collected the revenues of a province by means of a publican or farmer, to whom the taxes were let by auction; but such was the importance of Egypt that the same jealousy which made them think its government too great to be trusted to a man of high rank, made them think its revenues too large to be trusted to one farmer. The smaller branches of the Egyptian revenue were, however, let out as usual, and even the collection of the customs of the whole of the Red Sea was not thought too much to trust to one citizen. Annius Plocamus, who farmed them in this reign, had a little fleet under his command to collect them with; and, tempted either by trade or plunder, his ships were sometimes as far out as the south coast of Arabia. On one occasion one of his freedmen in the command of a vessel was carried by a north wind into the open ocean, and after being fifteen days at sea found himself on the coast of Ceylon. This island was not then wholly new to the geographers of Egypt and Europe. It had been heard of by the pilots in the voyage of Alexander the Great; Eratosthenes had given it a place in his map; and it had often been reached from Africa by the sailors of the Red Sea in wickerwork boats made of papyrus; but this was the first time it had been visited by a European.
In the neighbourhood of the above-mentioned road from Koptos to Berenice were the porphyritic quarries and the emerald mines, which were briskly worked under the Emperor Claudius. The mountain was now named the Claudian Mountain.
As this route for trade became known, the geographers began to understand the wide space that separates India from Africa. Hitherto, notwithstanding a few voyages of discovery, it had been the common opinion that Persia was in the neighbourhood of Ethiopia. The Greeks had thought that the Nile rose in India, in opposition to the Jews, who said that it was the river Gibon of the garden of Eden, which made a circuit round the whole of the land of Cush, or Ethiopia. The names of these countries got misused accordingly; and even after the mistake was cleared up we sometimes find Ethiopia called India.
The Egyptian chemists were able to produce very bright dyes by methods then unknown to Greece or Rome. They dipped the cloth first into a liquid of one colour, called a mordant, to prepare it, and then into a liquid of a second colour; and it came out dyed of a third colour, unlike either of the former. The ink with which they wrote the name of a deceased person on the mummy-cloth, like our own marking-ink, was made with nitrate of silver. Their knowledge of chemistry was far greater than that of their neighbours, and the science is even now named from the country of its birth. The later Arabs called it Alchemia, the Egyptian art, and hence our words alchemy and chemistry. So also Naphtha, or rock oil, from the coast of the Red Sea; and Anthracite, or rock fuel, from the coast of Syria, both bear Egyptian names. To some Egyptian stones the Romans gave their own names; as the black glassy obsidian from Nubia they called after Obsidius, who found it; the black Tiberian marble with white spots, and the Augustan marble with regular wavy veins, were both named after the emperors. Porphyry was now used for statues for the first time, and sometimes to make a kind of patchwork figure, in which the clothed parts were of the coloured stone, while the head, hands, and feet were of white marble. And it was thought that diamonds were nowhere to be found but in the Ethiopian gold mines.
Several kinds of wine were made in Egypt; some in the Arsinoite nome on the banks of the lake Mceris; and a poor Libyan wine at Antiplme on the coast, a hundred miles from Alexandria. Wine had also been made in Upper Egypt in small quantities a very long time, as we learn from the monuments; but it was produced with difficulty and cost and was not good; it was not valued by the Greeks. It was poor and thin, and drunk only by those who were feverish and afraid of anything stronger. That of Anthylla, to the east of Alexandria, was very much better. But better still were the thick luscious Taeniotic and the mild delicate Mareotic wines. This last was first grown at Plinthine, but afterwards on all the banks of the lake Mareotis. The Mareotic wine was white and sweet and thin, and very little heating or intoxicating. Horace had carelessly said of Cleopatra that she was drunk with Mareotic wine; but Lucan, who better knew its quality, says that the headstrong lady drank wine far stronger than the Mareotic. Near Sebennytus three kinds of wine were made; one bitter named Peuce, a second sparkling named AEthalon, and the third Thasian, from a vine imported from Thasus. But none of these Egyptian wines was thought equal to those of Greece and Italy. Nor were they made in quantities large enough or cheap enough for the poor; and here, as in other countries, the common people for their intoxicating drink used beer or spirits made from barley.
The Egyptian sour wine, however, made very good vinegar, and it was then exported for sale in Rome. During this half-century that great national work, the lake of Moeris, by which thousands of acres had been flooded and made fertile, and the watering of the lower country regulated, was, through the neglect of the embankments, at once destroyed. The latest traveller who mentions it is Strabo, and the latest geographer Pomponius Mela. By its means the province of Arsinoe was made one of the most fruitful and beautiful spots in Egypt. Here only does the olive grow wild. Here the vine will grow. And by the help of this embanked lake the province was made yet more fruitful. But before Pliny wrote, the bank had given way, the pentup waters had made for themselves a channel into the lake now called Birket el Kurun, and the two small pyramids, which had hitherto been surrounded by water, then stood on dry ground. Thus was the country slowly going to ruin by the faults of the government, and ignorance in the foreign rulers. But, on the other hand, the beautiful temple of Latopolis, which had been begun under the Ptolemies, was finished in this reign; and bears the name of Claudius with those of some later emperors on its portico and walls.
In the Egyptian language the word for a year is Bait, which is also the name of a bird. In hieroglyphics this word is spelt by a palm-branch Bai and the letter T, followed sometimes by a circle as a picture of the year. Hence arose among a people fond of mystery and allegory a mode of speaking of the year under the name of a palm-branch or of a bird; and they formed a fable out of a mere confusion of words. The Greeks, who were not slow to copy Egyptian mysticism, called this fabulous bird the Phoenix from their own name for the palm-tree. The end of any long period of time they called the return of the phonix to earth. The Romans borrowed the fable, though perhaps without understanding the allegory; and in the seventh year of this reign, when the emperor celebrated the secular games at Rome, at the end of the eighth century since the city was built, it was said that the phoenix had come to Egypt and was thence brought to Rome. This was in the consulship of Plautius and Vitellius; and it would seem to be only from mistakes in the name that Pliny places the event eleven years earlier, in the consulship of Plautius and Papinius, and that Tacitus places it thirteen years earlier in the consulship of Fabius and Vitellius. This fable is connected with some of the remarkable epochs in Egyptian history. The story lost nothing by travelling to a distance. In Rome it was said that this wonderful bird was a native of Arabia, where it lived for five hundred years, that on its death a grub came out of its body which in due time became a perfect bird; and that the new phonix brought to Egypt the bones of its parent in the nest of spices in which it had died, and laid them on the altar in the temple of the sun in Heliopolis. It then returned to Arabia to live in its turn for five hundred years, and die and give life again to another as before. The Christians saw in this story a type of the resurrection; and Clement, Bishop of Rome, quotes it as such in his Epistle to the Corinthians.
We find the name of Claudius on several of the temples of Upper Egypt, particularly on that of Apollinopolis Magna, and on the portico of the great temples of Latopolis, which were being built in this reign.
In the beginning of the reign of Nero, 55 A.D., an Egyptian Jew, who claimed to be listened to as a prophet, raised the minds of his countrymen into a ferment of religious zeal by preaching about the sufferings of their brethren in Judaea; and he was able to get together a body of men, called in reproach the Sicarii, or ruffians, whose numbers are variously stated at four thousand and thirty thousand, whom he led out of Egypt to free the holy city from the bondage of the heathen. But Felix, the Roman governor, led against them the garrison of Jerusalem, and easily scattered the half-armed rabble. By such acts of religious zeal on the part of the Jews they were again brought to blows with the Greeks of Alexandria. The Macedonians, as the latter still called themselves, had met in public assembly to send an embassy to Rome, and some Jews who entered the meeting, which as citizens they had a full right to do, were seized and ill-treated by them as spies. They would perhaps have even been put to death if a large body of their countrymen had not run to their rescue. The Jews attacked the assembled Greeks with stones and lighted torches, and would have burned the amphitheatre and all that were in it, if the prefect, Tiberius Alexander, had not sent some of the elders of their own nation to calm their angry feelings. But, though the mischief was stopped for a time, it soon broke out again; and the prefect was forced to call out the garrison of two Roman legions and five thousand Libyans before he could re-establish peace in the city. The Jews were always the greatest sufferers in these civil broils; and Josephus says that fifty thousand of his countrymen were left dead in the streets of Alexandria. But this number is very improbable, as the prefect was a friend to the Jewish nation, and as the Roman legions were not withdrawn to the camp till they had guarded the Jews in carrying away and burying the bodies of their friends.
It was a natural policy on the part of the emperors to change a prefect whenever his province was disturbed by rebellion, as we have seen in the case of Flaccus, who was recalled by Caligula. It was easier to send a new governor than to inquire into a wrong or to redress a grievance; and accordingly in the next year C. Balbillus was sent from Rome as prefect of Egypt. He reached Alexandria on the sixth day after leaving the Straits of Sicily, which was spoken of as the quickest voyage known. The Alexandrian ships were better built and better manned than any others, and, as a greater number of vessels sailed every year between that port and Puteoli on the coast of Italy than between any other two places, no voyage was better understood or more quickly performed. They were out of sight of land for five hundred miles between Syracuse and Cyrene. Hence we see that the quickest rate of sailing, with a fair wind, was at that time about one hundred and fifty miles in the twenty-four hours. But these ships had very little power of bearing up against the wind; and if it were contrary the voyage became tedious. If the captain on sailing out of the port of Alexandria found the wind westerly, and was unable to creep along the African coast to Cyrene, he stood over to the coast of Asia Minor, in hopes of there finding a more favourable wind. If a storm arose, he ran into the nearest port, perhaps in Crete, perhaps in Malta, there to wait the return of fair weather. If winter then came on, he had to lie by till spring. Thus a vessel laden with Egyptian wheat, leaving Alexandria in September, after the harvest had been brought down to the coast, would sometimes spend five months on its voyage from that port to Puteoli. Such was the case with the ship bearing the children of Jove as its figurehead, which picked up the Apostle Paul and the historian Josephus when they had been wrecked together on the island of Malta; and such perhaps would have been the case with the ship which they before found on the coast of Lycia, had it been able to reach a safe harbour, and not been wrecked at Malta.
The rocky island of Malta, with the largest and safest harbour in the Mediterranean, was a natural place for ships to touch at between Alexandria and Italy. Its population was made up of those races which had sailed upon its waters first from Carthage and then from Alexandria; it was a mixture of Phoenicians, Egyptians, and Graeco-Egyptians. To judge from the skulls turned up in the burial-places, the Egyptians were the most numerous, and here as elsewhere the Egyptian superstitions conquered and put down all the other superstitions. While the island was under the Phoenicians, the coins had the head of the Sicilian goddess on one side, and on the other the Egyptian trinity of Isis, Osiris, and Nepthys. When it was under the Greek rule the head on the coins received an Egyptian head-dress, and became that of the goddess Isis, and on the other side of the coin was a winged figure of Osiris. It was at this time governed by a Roman governor. The large temple, built with barbarian rudeness, and ornamented with the Phoenician palm-branch, was on somewhat of a Roman plan, with a circular end to every room. But it was dedicated to the chief god of Egypt, and is even yet called by its Greek name Hagia Chem, the temple of Chem. The little neighbouring island of Cossyra, between Sicily and Carthage, also shows upon its coins clear traces of its taste for Egyptian customs.
The first five years of this reign, the quinquennium Neronis, while the emperor was under the tutorship of the philosopher Seneca, became in Rome proverbial for good government, and on the coinage we see marks of Egypt being equally well treated. In the third year we see on a coin the queen sitting on a throne with the word agreement, as if to praise the young emperor's good feeling in following the advice of his mother Agrippina. On another the emperor is styled the young good genius, and he is represented by the sacred basilisk crowned with the double crown of Egypt. The new prefect, Balbillus, was an Asiatic Greek, and no doubt received his Roman names of Tiberius Claudius on being made a freedman of the late emperor. He governed the country mildly and justly; and the grateful inhabitants declared that under him the Nile was more than usually bountiful, and that its waters always rose to their just height. But in the latter part of the reign the Egyptians smarted severely under that cruel principle of a despotic monarchy that every prefect, every sub-prefect, and even every deputy tax-gatherer, might be equally despotic in his own department.
On a coin of the thirteenth year of the reign of this ruler, we see a ship with the word emperor-bearer, being that in which he then sailed into Greece, or in which the Alexandrians thought that he would visit their city. But if they had really hoped for his visit as a pleasure, they must have thought it a danger escaped when they learned his character; they must have been undeceived when the prefect Caecinna Tuscus was punished with banishment for venturing to bathe in the bath which was meant for the emperor's use if he had come on his projected visit.
During the first century and a half of Roman sway in Egypt the school of Alexandria was nearly silent. We have a few poems by Leonides of Alexandria, one of which is addressed to the Empress Poppaea, as the wife of Jupiter, on his presenting a celestial globe to her on her birthday. Pamphila wrote a miscellaneous history of entertaining stories, and her lively, simple style makes us very much regret its loss. Chaeremon, a Stoic philosopher, had been, during the last reign, at the head of the Alexandrian library, but he was removed to Rome as one of the tutors to the young Nero.
He is ridiculed by Martial for writing in praise of death, when, from age and poverty, he was less able to enjoy life. We still possess a most curious though short account by him of the monastic habits of the ancient Egyptians. He also wrote on hieroglyphics, and a small fragment containing his opinion of the meanings of nineteen characters still remains to us. But he is not always right; he thinks the characters were used allegorically for thoughts, not for sounds; and fancies that the priests used them to keep secret the real nature of the gods.
He was succeeded at the museum by his pupil Dionysius, who had the charge of the library till the reign of Trajan. Dionysius was also employed by the prefect as a secretary of state, or, in the language of the day, secretary to the embassies, epistles, and answers. He was the author of the Periegesis, and aimed at the rank of a poet by writing a treatise on geography in heroic verse. From this work he is named Dionysius Periegetes. While careful to remind us that his birthplace Alexandria was a Macedonian city, he gives due honour to Egypt and the Egyptians. There is no river, says he, equal to the Nile for carrying fertility and adding to the happiness of the land. It divides Asia from Libya, falling between rocks at Syene, and then passing by the old and famous city of Thebes, where Memnon every morning salutes his beloved Aurora as she rises. On its banks dwells a rich and glorious race of men, who were the first to cultivate the arts of life; the first to make trial of the plough and sow their seed in a straight furrow; and the first to map the heavens and trace the sloping path of the sun.
According to the traditions of the church, it was in this reign that Christianity was first brought into Egypt by the Evangelist Mark, the disciple of the Apostle Peter. Many were already craving for religious food more real than the old superstitions. The Egyptian had been shaken in his attachment to the sacred animals by Greek ridicule. The Greek had been weakened in his belief of old Homer's gods by living with men who had never heard of them. Both were dissatisfied with the scheme of explaining the actions of their gods by means of allegory. The crumbling away of the old opinions left men more fitted to receive the new religion from Galilee. Mark's preaching converted crowds in Alexandria; but, after a short stay, he returned to Rome, in about the eleventh year of this reign, leaving Annianus to watch over the growing church. Annianus is usually called the first bishop of Alexandria; and Eusebius, who lived two hundred years later, has given us the names of his successors in an unbroken chain. If we would inquire whether the early converts to Christianity in Alexandria were Jews, Greeks, or Egyptians, we have nothing to guide us but the names of these bishops. Annianus, or Annaniah, as his name was written by the Arabic historians, was very likely a Jew; indeed, the Evangelist Mark would begin by addressing himself to the Jews, and would leave the care of the infant church to one of his own nation. In the platonic Jews, Christianity found soil so exactly suited to its reception that it is only by he dates that the Therapeute of Alexandria and their historian Philo are proved not to be Christian; and, again, it was in the close union between the platonic Jews and the platonists that Christianity found its easiest path to the ears and hearts of the pagans. The bishops that followed seem to have been Greek converts. Before the death of Annaniah, Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman armies, and the Jews sunk in their own eyes and in those of their fellow-citizens throughout the empire; hence the second bishop of Alexandria was less likely to be of Hebrew blood; and it was long before any Egyptians aimed at rank in the church. But though the spread of Christianity was rapid, both among the Greeks and the Egyptians, we must not hope to find any early traces of it in the historians. It was at first embraced by the unlearned and the poor, whose deeds and opinions are seldom mentioned in history; and we may readily believe the scornful reproach of the unbelievers, that it was chiefly received by the unfortunate, the unhappy, the despised, and the sinful. When the white-robed priestesses of Ceres carried the sacred basket through the streets of Alexandria, they cried out, "Sinners away, or keep your eyes to the ground; keep your eyes to the ground!" When the crier, standing on the steps of the portico in front of the great temple, called upon the pagans to come near and join in the celebration of their mysteries, he cried out, "All ye who are clean of hands and pure of heart, come to the sacrifice; all ye who are guiltless in thought and deed, come to the sacrifice."
But many a repentant sinner and humble spirit must have drawn back in distrust from a summons which to him was so forbidding, and been glad to hear the good tidings of mercy offered by Christianity to those who labour and are heavy laden, and to the broken-hearted who would turn away from their wickedness. While such were the chief followers of the gospel, it was not likely to be much noticed by the historians; and we must wait till it forced its way into the schools and the palace before we shall find many traces of the rapidity with which it was spreading.
During these reigns the Ethiopian Arabs kept up their irregular warfare against the southern frontier. The tribe most dreaded were the Blemmyes, an uncivilised people, described by the affrighted neighbours as having no heads, but with eyes and mouth on the breast; and it was under that name that the Arabs spread during each century farther and farther into Egypt, separating the province from the more cultivated tribes of Upper Ethiopia or Meroe. The cities along the banks of the Nile in Lower Ethiopia, between Nubia and Meroe, were ruined by being in the debatable land between the two nations. The early Greek travellers had counted about twenty cities on each side of the Nile between Syene and Meroe; but when, in a moment of leisure, the Roman government proposed to punish and stop the inroads of these troublesome neighbours, and sent forward a tribune with a guard of soldiers, he reported on his return that the whole country was a desert, and that there was scarcely a city inhabited on either side of the Nile beyond Nubia. But he had not marched very far. The interior of Africa was little known; and to seek for the fountain of the Nile was another name for an impossible or chimerical undertaking.
But Egypt itself was so quiet as not to need the presence of so large a Roman force as usual to keep it in obedience; and when Vespasian, who commanded Nero's armies in Syria, found the Jews more obstinate in their rebellion and less easily crushed than he expected, the emperor sent the young Titus to Alexandria, to lead to his father's assistance all the troops that could be spared. Titus led into Palestine through Arabia two legions, the Fifth and the Tenth, which were then in Egypt.
We find a temple of this reign in the oasis of Dakleh, or the Western Oasis, which seems to have been a more flourishing spot in the time of the Romans than when Egypt itself was better governed. It is so far removed from the cities in the valley of the Nile that its position, and even existence, was long unknown to Europeans, and to such hiding-places as this many of the Egyptians fled, to be farther from the tyranny of the Roman tax-gatherers.
Hitherto the Roman empire had descended for just one hundred years through five emperors like a family inheritance; but, on the death of Nero, the Julian and Claudian families were at an end, and Galba, who was raised to the purple by the choice of the soldiers, endeavoured to persuade the Romans and their dependent provinces that they had regained their liberties. The Egyptians may have been puzzled by the word freedom, then struck upon the coins by their foreign masters, but must have been pleased to find it accompanied with a redress of grievances.
Galba began his reign with the praiseworthy endeavour of repairing the injustice done by his cruel predecessor. He at once recalled the prefect of Egypt, and appointed in his place Tiberius Julius Alexander, an Alexandrian, a son of the former prefect of that name; and thus Egypt was under the government of a native prefect. The peaceable situation of the Great Oasis has saved a long Greek inscription of the decree which was now issued in redress of the grievances suffered under Nero. It is a proclamation by Julius Demetrius, the commander of the Oasis, quoting the decree of Tiberius Julius Alexander, the new prefect of Egypt.
The prefect acknowledges that the loud complaints with which he was met on entering upon his government were well founded, and he promises that the unjust taxes shall cease; that nobody shall be forced to act as a provincial tax-gatherer; that no debts shall be cancelled or sales made void under the plea of money owing to the revenue; that no freeman shall be thrown into prison for debt, unless it be a debt due to the royal revenue, and that no private debt shall be made over to the tax-gatherer, to be by him collected as a public debt; that no property settled on the wife at marriage shall be seized for taxes due from the husband; and that all new charges and claims which had grown up within the last five years shall be repealed. In order to discourage informers, whom the prefects had much employed, and by whom the families in Alexandria were much harassed, and to whom he laid the great falling off in the population of that city, he orders, that if anybody should make three charges and fail in proving them, he shall forfeit half his property and lose the right of bringing an action at law. The land had always paid a tax in proportion to the number of acres overflowed and manured by the waters of the Nile; and the husbandmen had latterly been frightened by the double threat of a new measurement of the land, and of making it at the same time pay according to the ancient registers of the overflow when the canals had been more open and more acres flooded; but the prefect promises that there shall be no new measurements, and that they shall only be taxed according to the actual overflow. In 69 A.D. Galba was murdered, after a reign of seven months. Some of his coins, however, are dated in the second year of his reign, according to the Alexandrian custom of counting the years. They called the 29th of August, the first new year's day after the sovereign came to the throne, the first day of his second year.
Otho was then acknowledged as emperor by Rome and the East, while the hardy legions of Germany thought themselves entitled to choose for themselves. They set up their own general, Vitellius. The two legions in Egypt sided with the four legions in Syria under Mucianus, and the three legions which, under Vespasian, were carrying on the memorable war against the Jews; and all took the oaths to Otho. We find no hieroglyphical inscriptions during this short reign of a few weeks, but there are many Alexandrian coins to prove the truth of the historian; and some of them, like those of Galba, bear the unlooked-for word freedom. In the few weeks which then passed between the news of Otho's death and of Vespasian being raised to the purple in Syria, Vitellius was acknowledged in Egypt; and the Alexandrian mint struck a few coins in his name with the figure of Victory. But as soon as the legions of Egypt heard that the Syrian army had made choice of another emperor, they withdrew their allegiance from Vitellius, and promised it to his Syrian rival.