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Chapter I

1400 B.C.

n the time in which this true story begins — nine hundred years before the Buddha and Lao Tse were born, fourteen hundred years before Christ, and more than two thousand years before the Prophet Mohamed — the world was already old. It was different in many ways, but yet the same as it is now — much the same as it always was. There were fewer people and more wastelands, more forests, more wild animals than there are today. It took, also, very much longer to go from one place to


another. Of course, there were no newspapers; and apart from merchants, sailors and warriors, scarce were those who ever visited foreign lands. Special messengers took weeks to go from Egypt to Syria and back. The world seemed much broader than it does now. But there were good and bad people in it, as there are still; there were rich and poor, wise and foolish. There were states and empires, and wars between them. There were peasants, traders and money lenders; craftsmen and slaves; soldiers and physicians and priests. And just as in all times, the seekers of wealth were more common than the seekers of truth, and superstition more common than religion.

The countries that are nowadays the most spoken about — Germany, Britain, Russia — were then hardly known to the rest of the world. And among the nations that we look upon as “very ancient,” many had not yet risen to prominence; others did not even exist. Assyria was still an ‘unimportant’ semi barbaric kingdom; the Acropolis of Athens was but an obscure Mycenaean fortress; and, seven hundred years were yet to pass before the first huts were to appear on the spot that was, one day, to become Rome. Countries, most of which have for centuries, lost their place in the world, were then the ruling nations, the centres of all activity worth mentioning.

Among them, India and China, highly civilised as


they were, were so far away that the rest of mankind looked upon them almost as we do upon another planet. Now and then in some port of the Persian Gulf, a ship would unload its precious cargo: perfumes and peacocks, jade and sandal wood, and strange tales would spread about the unreachable lands of dawn beyond the Indian Ocean.

In the other half of the world, Babylonia, Egypt, the Aegean Isles — the ruling powers — were already more than twice as old as Britain and Germany are now. That is to say that many happenings had taken place since the far gone days when the gods, it was said, had ruled on earth, each one in his particular area. Mighty kingdoms had risen and fallen; new gods and goddesses had become popular while others had been forgotten. Crete, the, mistress of the waves for centuries, was now in her decline. Daring Phoenician sea farers were beginning to take the place of hers, while old Babylon, famous for her star gazers and her trade, and second only to Thebes in splendour, was slumbering under the uneventful rule of a foreign dynasty. In the centre of Asia Minor a warrior like nation — the Hittites — was slowly rising in strength; but nobody feared it yet. And to the south east of the Hittite boundaries, bordering the outskirts of the Egyptian empire, there was the small kingdom of Mitanni, an ally of Egypt.


Egypt was the one uncontested “great power” of the time. Within a few generations, she had extended her sway eastwards across the Syrian desert, into a part of what is now Iraq; northwards, beyond the Upper Euphrates, to lands where winter brings snow, and southwards, past the Fourth Cataract of the Nile to regions of depressing heat and pouring rain, unknown to the Egyptians themselves. People, then, must have spoken of the Egyptian empire somewhat as they do of the British empire today.

And the emperor of those many dominions, the greatest monarch of the world, was the Pharaoh Amenhotep the Third — Amenhotep the Magnificent, as some modern historians have called him. Thebes, his capital, was one of the largest and most beautiful cities that had ever existed. Its palaces and gardens were famous, but nothing exceeded the splendour of its temples dedicated to all the gods of Upper and Lower Egypt. From a great distance, one could see the sacred flags fluttering like waves of purple above the gigantic pylons and the golden tops of the obelisks glittering in the sun. And one could never forget the royal avenue bordered with rows of sphinx, which led to the enclosure of the main temple — the great temple of Amon — nor the courtyards, the halls, the shrines therein; the huge columns, so big that twenty men stretching their arms hardly sufficed to embrace one of them, so high that their


summits seemed lost in the darkness; the golden hieroglyphics that shone on a background of dark granite, proclaiming the words of the god to the Conqueror, his son “I have come; I have, granted thee to trample over the great ones of Syria . . .”

In those days, not merely every country but every city had its own gods and goddesses, who were not those of the neighbouring city. Nobody even imagined that there could only one God for all the world. But they found it natural to worship gods of other cities, even of distant lands, when these had proved themselves efficient by making their people powerful. That is how Amon the god of Thebes, the royal city, had become the main god of all Egypt. Nay, even outside Egypt, in Syria, in Palestine, in Nubia, throughout the Empire, temples were erected to him and people worshipped him. They feared him, as they who had feared Egypt; for it was he, they were told, guided the armies of the Conqueror, Thotmose the Third — the ruling Pharaoh’s great grandfather — from victory to victory, and made Egypt invincible ever since.

The priests of Amon were so rich that they did not know what to do with their wealth. They possessed immense stretches of good land — corn fields and palm groves and pastures and maize fields — ever increasing revenues, huge flocks of cattle and numberless slaves. A great part of the tribute of the conquered cities was given to them. Their power was second only to that of


the king and their influence was felt everywhere. The commoners, poor and ignorant folk, looked up to them as if they were gods on earth, and even the king — the son of the Sun; himself a god — feared to displease them. They had long given up the habit of pious meditation and the simple life they had once led before they became rich. Now, they spent their time intriguing so as to extort more and more privileges from the king; they urged the people to offer costly sacrifices and to make donations to the temples. And they lived in luxury.

There were many foreigners in Thebes. Syrian princes — sons and grandsons of defeated kings — were sent there to learn Egyptian

manners. Lybian and Nubian soldiers serving in the Egyptian army met there with Cretan craftsmen, with sailors from Cyprus and the Aegean Isles. Babylonians had settled there; they made a living by lending money or by telling fortunes, or else by giving lessons in their native language — then the international medium of commerce and diplomacy — to the sons of rich Theban merchants or to the future clerks of the Egyptian Foreign Office. Sometimes, in the slave market, one would come across natives of strange lands: some tall pink and white barbarian, with blue eyes, brought by the Phoenicians from the misty Isles at the western end of the world, or, more often, dark skinned, thick lipped hunters from the farthest South, who bore shields of antelope hide and long poisonous arrows, stuck


red and green feathers in their woolly hair, and dwelt in unknown damp forests full of rhinoceros and wild elephants.

All these people came and went, toiled and traded, made merry and suffered, and worshipped each one his native gods, occasionally propitiating the foreign ones too, when they thought it would be of some good. They all looked upon Egypt as if her empire would last forever and her splendour never decline. They enjoyed the refinements of her sophisticated life; they, admired the art of her craftsmen; they admired and feared her military power which had proved invincible. But above all they feared Amon, her great god, and his priests; and they feared King Amenhotep, her Pharaoh, though he had never led an army through Syria, as his father and forefathers had.

As for the Egyptians, they had always been a proud nation. Two hundred years of constant victory had made them prouder than ever. They were kind and hospitable to strangers, but thought themselves superior to the rest of men, whoever they might be. They were deeply attached to their national gods — especially to Amon — and they looked up to their king as to the Sun in heaven.

And so, the western half of all the civilised world lay at the feet of Egypt, and Egypt at the feet of her king, Amenhotep the Third, son of the Sun, the first king of the world — the favourite of Amon, the great god of Egypt.