212 – 213 – 214
TRUTH VERSUS SUCCESS
UNREST IN CONQUERED LAND
In order to realise all the importance of what Akhnaton did — or abstained from doing — when the hard “necessities” of war were thrust upon him, one should first keep in mind the most exalted position which he occupied in the world of his days.
As we have stressed at the beginning of this book, the Egyptian empire was, when he took it over by hereditary right, the greatest empire existing. It could certainly not be compared, either in extent or organisation, with what the Roman empire was one day to be, or with what the British empire is at present. Far from it. But still, with its frontiers stretched from the banks of the Upper Euphrates and the Amanus Mountains — the extreme north of Mesopotamia and the south-eastern limits of Asia Minor — down to and even beyond the Fourth Cataract of the Nile; with the terror of the thirteen victorious campaigns of Thotmose the Third, the conqueror (and of the ruthless punitive expeditions of his successor), fresh in every man’s memory; and with the blessings of local freedom coupled with a firm administration and the security of trade which it gave to the small vassal states that mainly composed it, it surely commanded, in the fourteenth century B.C., from the Black Sea to Abyssinia and from the Grecian mainland to Arabia and the Persian Gulf, much of the prestige that the British empire enjoys to-day all over the globe.
It cannot be called the oldest empire of the world: some twenty-five centuries before,1 Sargon of Agade had once united under his sceptre all lands from the Mediterranean to Baluchistan. But one can say, with Breasted, that “the administration and organisation” of this Egyptian empire “represent the earliest efforts of government to devise an
1 According to others, at a much less early date; see Chap. I, p. 13.
imperial system.”1 Without perhaps being as efficient as in a modern state of the same size, they were surely thorough enough to render the domination of Egypt practically unshakable for many hundreds of years, provided the succeeding Pharaohs would not lose the active interest of their fathers in foreign possessions, nor give up their good old warrior-like traditions and hesitate to take action at the slightest signs of disloyalty.
Akhnaton was now the emperor of those vast and various countries; the distant divine Pharaoh to whom the wild chieftains of the Far South — Nubians and even Negroes — no less than the princes of the Orontes and of the Upper Euphrates looked up as “the King, the Sun of the lands.” He was the most powerful man on earth. And the richest. The inexhaustible resources of the Sudan and of the faraway tropical forests — gold and ivory, slaves and precious woods — were his. Syria, a land of “abundant honey, wine and oil,”2 of rich flocks and harvests, of ivory,3 cedar wood, precious stones, copper, lead and silver,4 was his — without counting Egypt herself, in all times “the granary of the East.” Taxes were collected efficiently, and the tribute of the subject princes (of which the amount, though not known to us, must have been considerable) poured in regularly, at least up to the twelfth year of the Pharaoh’s reign. And if we add to this all the wealth already amassed before his accession as the spoil of war, “the beautiful and luxurious products”5 of Syrian industry wrested from the palaces of vanquished kings and from the temples of vanquished gods by generations of conquering Pharaohs; if we add the fabulous treasures patiently accumulated by the priests of Amon, and the enormous revenues of their estates, all confiscated by Akhnaton himself, then we may expect, perhaps, to imagine the amount of gold and silver and mercenary man-power of
1 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 87.
2 S. Cook: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 328.
3 S. Cook says that “elephants were hunted at Niy,” Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 328.
4 S. Cook: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 329.
5 Ibid., p. 328.
which the young Prophet of the Sun could easily dispose, if he liked. It is indeed no wonder that the envious foreign kings who kept on begging for presents from him in their letters, assert so emphatically, on every occasion, that “verily, in the land of Egypt, gold is as common as dust.”
We have seen previously what riches Akhnaton lavished upon his new capital, especially upon the great temple of Aton and the other most important buildings. We have mentioned the magnificent decoration of his own palace. And if the kings of Babylon, of Mitanni, of Assyria, and of the Hittites show, as they do in their letters, that they were hardly ever satisfied with the presents he sent them, we must not, it seems, with Sir Wallis Budge,1 rush to the conclusion that he lacked the royal generosity of his father. Knowing as we do that many of his correspondents asked for “more gold” in order to achieve some “new temple” which they had begun to build, we should rather see, in the Pharaoh’s alleged “parsimony,” a refusal to contribute with his wealth to the embellishment of the shrines of foreign local gods — false gods such as he had suppressed in his own country for drawing men’s attention away from the One universal Sun. It was not “parsimony.” It was a matter of principles. Whenever he thought it necessary (or harmless) to spend money, the Pharaoh did so without hesitation, in as kingly a manner as any of his predecessors. And even after the building of Akhetaton, even after all the costly works which he undertook all over the empire, to the glory of the One God — the foundation of new cities as centres of His cult, the erection of numerous temples — he still had enormous sums at his command; more than enough to defend his Asiatic dominions, if he chose to do so.
* * *
As we have said, the Egyptian empire, especially the northern half of it, was a conglomeration of innumerable small vassal states. Every Syrian or Canaanitish town of little importance had its “king,” who acknowledged himself as the
1 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 98.
“servant” of the faraway Pharaoh and paid tribute to him. The whole country was under the immediate supervision of a “governor of the northern countries” or “vice-roy of the North.” A man of the name of Yankhamu was then the holder of that title.
The coastal towns, Amki, Arvad, Simyra, Ullaza, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, Accho and, farther south, Ashdod and Askalon (to name only a few of them), carried on with Egypt a flourishing trade. Some, like Byblos (called Gebal or Gubla in the tongue of its people), had always been more loyal to Egypt than others. In the interior, Niy, not far from the great bend of the Euphrates and the Mitannian border, Aleppo, Tunip (or Dunip), Hamath, Kadesh, Damascus, Megiddo, Shunem, Taanach, Jerusalem, were the principal “cities of the king,” some of them definitely loyal — such as Tunip, Megiddo, Jerusalem — others much less so. Kadesh seems to have been among the permanent centres of disturbance.
The limit of Egyptian conquests lay, as we have stated previously, somewhere above the Amanus Mountains. The kingdom of Mitanni, ruled by an aristocracy of probably Indo-Aryan origin, bordered the empire to the north-east. Its kings had been giving daughters in marriage to the Pharaohs ever since the days of Akhnaton’s grandfather. They also often received Egyptian royal maidens as their wives. And Queen Nefertiti, whose parentage is much disputed among scholars, may possibly have been, as Sir Flinders Petrie believes, a Mitannian princess (with an Egyptian mother and grandmother, which would explain her particular features). “Behind Mitanni,” and farther to the north-east, “the friendly kingdoms later known as Assyria were the limits of the known world.”1
The Egyptian possessions were limited to the east by the desert, which lay between them and the territory of the Kassite king of Babylon; while to the north-west, beyond the Amanus Mountains, stretched the “Great Kheta” or Hittite confederation, of which the distant capital, Hattushash
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 198.
(modern Boghaz-Keui), stood not far from the present site of Ankara. The Hittites were a warrior-like set of people, and their king, Shubbiluliuma, a crafty and ambitious monarch. It is he who seems to have been at the bottom of all the troubles in Syria throughout Akhnaton’s reign.
It is difficult to say how far the Syrian vassals of the Pharaoh had already, under Amenhotep the Third, “grown thoroughly habituated to the Egyptian allegiance.”1 However much this might have been, they were not all so loyal as to remain deaf to the various incitations of Shubbiluliuma’s agents, eloquently depicting to them the advantages of independence and promising them Hittite support in order to win it. Foreign rule, after all, never was a pleasant thing; and the chieftains of Syria and Palestine, even after having been educated in Thebes (as most of them were) could not all have enjoyed it. As we shall see, those who did seem to have been a minority, while the others, however outwardly loyal, disliked it, apparently, as thoroughly as the native leaders of any subject people generally do.
It happened in this particular case, that foreign rule was Akhnaton’s rule — the rule, that is to say, of the “first prophet of internationalism,”2 the only man in his days to consider men of all races in the same light (as children of the same Father), and perhaps the only one, if any, capable of understanding the grievances of subject races if set before him. But they did not know him. They knew the distant impersonal king-god (a Pharaoh like any other) whom they had never seen, and quite a number of Egyptian officials and pro-Egyptian local dynasts — the latter, their personal rivals — of whom they had seen too much. And it is likely that they were, also, more often than not, impatient to replace Egyptian domination by their own personal tyranny over the people. The Hittite king, on his side, was endeavouring to use them in order to bring all Syria, if possible, under Hittite domination.
1 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 96.
2 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, pp. 127-128.
* * *
All that is known of the unrest in Syria and Palestine in Akhnaton’s time can be gathered from a collection of some three hundred and fifty clay tablets — the famous “Tell-el-Amarna Letters” — discovered in 1887 and 1891 on the site of the Pharaoh’s ruined capital. These tablets, covered with cuneiform writing, represent what is left of the diplomatic correspondence of the young king and of his father. What was exactly the situation cannot be described with full accuracy of details; nor can one follow its evolution step by step, for the date of many of the Letters is uncertain. Moreover, a great number of precious tablets have been completely destroyed through mishandling. “What has been preserved is therefore but a wreck of what might have been, had any person equal to the occasion placed his hand on them in time.”1
It can, however, be stated that “a great concerted anti-Egyptian movement,”2 in which the Hittites were playing the local enemies of Egypt, repeatedly referred to in the letters from northern Syria — and the “Habiru” — the plundering tribes of the desert who joined the rebellion in Canaan — were attacking the loyal vassals of Egypt from the borders of the Euphrates (near the Mitannian frontier) down to the south of Palestine. They were fighting under the leadership of a growing number of chieftains of different races, if we judge by their names. The most prominent of these were, in the North, Itakama — “the man of Kadesh” — the Amorite Abdashirta, and, especially after the death of the latter, his ambitious and unscrupulous son, Aziru; and in the South, Labaya (or Lapaya) and his sons, along with Tagi, soon allied to Milki-ili, his son-in-law. The movement seems to have had two principal centres: the land of Amor, in Northern Syria, and the Plain of Jezreel, in Palestine.
The chiefs who fought most wholeheartedly in the interest of Egypt were Abi-Milki of Tyre, Biridiya of Megiddo (once a centre of resistance to the Pharaohs’ northward advance; now a pro-Egyptian city), and, above all, the indefatigable
1 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 259.
2 S. Cook: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 303.
Ribaddi, king of Gebal (Byblos) and Abdikhipa, the faithful governor of Jerusalem. There seem to have been many more sincere supporters of Egyptian rule at the time the troubles started. But as years passed, nearly every new letter from the theatre of war announced the defection of some new “king” — or “kings” — formerly loyal. Even Abi-Milki, for long faithful to his Egyptian allegiance, finished by joining the Sa-Gaz — when tired of waiting in vain for the Pharaoh to help him against them. But all the vassals, including the most notoriously disloyal ones, protest of their loyalty in their correspondence with Egypt. It would appear that the more treacherous they were, the more vehemently they asserted their submission. “To the King, the Sun, my Lord, speaks Abdashirta, the dust of thy feet,” wrote the Amorite agitator to Akhnaton. “Beneath the feet of the King my Lord, seven times and seven times I fall. Lo, I am a servant of the King and his house-dog, and the whole of the land of Amor guard I for the King, my Lord.”1 And his son, by far the most able and determined enemy of Egypt after Shubbiluliuma himself (of whom he was the tool), wrote in the same tone, while begging the Hittite king to help him to shake off the Pharaoh’s domination and while inciting Zimrida, king of Sidon, and other local princelings to break their old bonds of allegiance and become his allies.
It was surely very difficult for any contemporary observer to distinguish, under the conflicting statements all those chieftains and governors of cities, who was actually loyal and who was not. The Egyptian officers on the spot often made mistakes, as did Turbikha, Yankhamu’s envoy, who unnecessarily hurt the feelings of the Pharaoh’s true friends in Irkata2; or Pakhura, whose mercenaries attacked Ribaddi’s loyal troops, with whom they should have collaborated.3 To march, himself, into Syria, at the head of an army, would not perhaps have helped Akhnaton much in knowing the
1 Amarna Letters, K. 60, quoted by James Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 353.
2 Letter of the Elders of Irkata, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 360.
3 Letter of Ribaddi, K. 122, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 365.
hearts of his vassals, but it would have put an end to the Syrian squabbles and “saved the situation”; for at the mere news of his approach, every outward sign of unrest would doubtless have disappeared. The very name of Egypt, associated with that of its great conquering kings, was still feared. The crafty old monarch in Hattushash would also have changed his policy, had he been under the impression that his opponent was prepared to fight. Akhnaton seems to have been well aware of Shubbiluliuma’s enmity. He severed diplomatic relations with him — a fact of which the Hittite, whose double game had thus come to an end, complains in a letter which has come down to us.1 But he did not wish to fight. He did not wish to be feared. And though he perhaps did realise, more than many modern authors seem to believe, that nothing would have stemmed the disintegration of the Egyptian empire but “a vigorously aggressive policy,”2 he did not wish to adopt such a policy.
* * *
The troubles, which appear to have regularly increased all through the young Pharaoh’s short reign, had definitely started under Amenhotep the Third, as proved by the letter in which Aki-izzi of Katna reports to that king an alliance of the Hittites with several chieftains of the Upper Orontes with an aim to attack the plain of Damascus3 (and Katna, which was on their way southwards). Other letters of the same period report attacks on Amki,4 at the mouth of the Orontes, and we also learn that shortly before Akhnaton’s accession, a small Egyptian force had been despatched to Syria under an officer named Amenemapet, who recovered Simyra — an important seaport — from the hands of Abdashirta. But from the whole series of appeals for help addressed to Akhnaton himself by his loyal Syrian vassals — especially by Ribaddi, the author of more than fifty of the
1 Amarna Letters, K. 41.
2 J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 354.
3 Letter CXII (W. 139), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 281.
4 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 280-281; Letters CVII (W. 132) and CX (W. 125).
“Amarna Letters” — it is clear that, though the confusion had already begun to spread by the time he came to the throne, a very little help to the supporters of Egyptian rule would have been sufficient to save the empire — provided it were sent speedily. At this stage of the war, Ribaddi, menaced in his stronghold of Gebal by Abdashirta and his sons, entreats the king to send him “three hundred men” so that he may “be able to hold the city.”1 In another despatch he writes: “May it seem good to my Lord, the Sun of the lands, to give me twenty pair of horses.”2 But this slight help was never sent.
Abdashirta was killed in some skirmish, and the anti-Egyptian movement, for a time, seemed to slacken. But it soon regained a greater impetus than ever under the ablest of the Amorite leader’s sons, Aziru, who then began, in the words of a modern writer, his “amazing game of mingled cunning and boldness against the greatest empire of his world.”3 War rapidly spread all over the country, and the despatches of the loyal vassals grew more and more disquieting. The Amorites, under the command of Aziru and his brothers, were again hammering at the gates of Simyra. They were now in alliance with Arvad — another seaport, north of Simyra. And the faithful Ribaddi wrote to Akhnaton, his lord: “As a bird in the fowler’s snare, so is Simyra. Night and day the sons of Abdashirta are against it by land, and the men of Arvad by sea.”4 While the elders of Irkata, a small coastal town to the south of Arvad, wrote in a no less appealing letter, “Let not the breath of the king depart from us. The town-gates have been barred until the breath of the king shall come to us. Mighty is the enmity against us; mighty indeed.”5
But not a word of encouragement came from the distant overlord in whom they had put all their hope. It was as
1 Letter K. 93, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 352.
2 Letter K. 103, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 352.
3 J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 359.
4 Letter CLXV (W. 84), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 292.
5 Letter CLIX (W. 122), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 290. Quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), pp. 360-361.
though their distressed appeals did not reach him, in his sacred City, or as though they were incapable of touching his heart.
War in Syria continued raging. Ribaddi, in a pressing message, announced that Zimrida of Sidon, Yapa-addu, and other dynasts had joined the rebels, and he begged for troops,1 for “only Simyra and Irkata” were left to him, and he had to defend them. “Let troops be sent with Yankhamu,”2 he repeats, in another despatch. In another he complains that he cannot send ships to Zalukhi and Ugarit (right in the north of Syria) because of Aziru, and tells the king that the Hittites are plundering the lieges of Gebal.3 In another, he explains how acute the food problem has grown in Gebal itself4; in yet another, he informs Akhnaton that “the sons of Abdashirta” hold Ullaza, Ardata, Yikhliya, Ambi and Shigata, and asks again for succour, that he might still rescue Simyra from the besieging Amorites. If Simyra surrenders, he fears the fate that is likely to befall him.5
At about the same time, among many other increasingly pathetic calls for help, was despatched to Akhnaton from “the citizens of Tunip” in north-east Syria, what is surely one of the most moving official documents of all times. It shows what memories the great warrior-like Pharaohs had left in Syria. It shows, also, to what pitch of disappointment, verging on despair, the apparent indifference of the ruling king had brought the loyal section of the Syrian people, especially in the remoter parts of the empire, where impending danger threatened them on all sides. “Who could formerly have plundered Tunip without being plundered by Men-kheper-ra?” (Thotmose the Third), runs the letter; “The gods of Egypt dwell in Tunip. May the king our lord ask his old men (if it be not so). But now we no longer belong to Egypt.” “. . . Aziru has captured people in the land of
1 Letter CLVIII (W. 78), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 289.
2 Letter CLVI (W. 87), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 289.
3 Letter CLII (W. 104), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 289.
4 Letter CLXI, Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 290.
5 Letter CLXII (W. 86), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 291.
Khatat. Aziru will treat Tunip as he has treated Niy; and if we mourn, then the king of Egypt will also have to mourn. And when Aziru enters Simyra, he will do to us as he pleases, and the king will have to lament. And now, Tunip, thy city, weeps, and her tears are flowing and there is no help for us. For twenty years we have been sending to our Lord, the king of Egypt, but there has not come to us a word from our Lord — not one.”1
But again no troops were sent. The Pharaoh answered Ribaddi’s letters, but only to tell him to “defend himself,” as it is obvious from the Syrian prince’s reply: “Why has the king, my lord, written to me saying ‘Defend yourself, and you surely will be defended’? Against whom shall I defend myself? If the king would defend his servants, then would I be delivered: but if the king does not defend me, then who will defend me? If the king sends men from Egypt and from Melukhkha, and horses . . . right speedily, then I shall be delivered so that I may serve my lord the king. At present, I have nothing at all wherewith to obtain horses. Everything has been given to Yarimuta to keep life in me.”2 This last sentence is evidently an allusion to the precarious food situation which the prince of Gebal was facing; he had had to deprive himself and his people of all other commodities that he might buy grain from the stores of Yarimuta, north of Gebal.3 The tone of the letter shows Ribaddi’s bewilderment at Akhnaton’s attitude, which he fails to understand.
The next event — which Sir Flinders Petrie calls a “landmark” in the history of the loss of the Egyptian empire — was the fall of Simyra. Its helpless defender wrote to the king: “Simyra, thy fortress, is now in the power of the Sa-Gaz.”4 The town was completely destroyed by Aziru and his allies. Tyre fell shortly after Simyra.5 Abi-Milki, its king,
1 Letter CLXX (W. 41) quoted by Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 292-293; quoted also by A. Weigall, Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 205.
2 Letter K. 112, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), pp. 363-364.
3 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 291.
4 Letter CLXXII (W. 56), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 293.
5 Sir Flinders Petrie: History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 294.
had been describing his plight in every letter he sent to Egypt. But nothing had come of his efforts to attract the Pharaoh’s attention upon the situation in Syria. In the end, he had let things take their course.
Ribaddi was now fighting alone against hopeless odds, for a king who seemed deaf to his cries for help and yet who could easily have supported him, had he wished to do so. It appears that, for once at least, after the loss of Simyra, Akhnaton took pity on his faithful servant. A small force of Sutu (Arab mercenaries) was sent from Egypt to Ribaddi’s rescue. But that isolated help proved a disaster. For Pakhura, the officer in command of the reinforcements, mistaking friend for foe — or perhaps secretly won over to Aziru and the rebels — attacked the “Shirdanu” troops upon whom Ribaddi was relying for his defence, and made a great slaughter of them.1 The people of Gebal immediately threw all the responsibility for this misdeed upon Ribaddi himself, whose position in the city soon became untenable. “Since that time,” says he, in one of his messages to the Pharaoh, “the city has been exasperated against me; and truly the city says: ‘A crime such has not been committed from eternity, has been committed against us.’”2 Already his own brother was at the head of the anti-Egyptian faction, and his wife and his whole household (as he tells the king in another letter) were bringing pressure upon him to sever his allegiance to Egypt and “join the sons of Abdashirta.”3 At one time we see that he was forced to leave Byblos, and that he found its gates closed against him.4 He managed, however, to re-enter it, seriously fearing he would be driven out
1 Letter CC (W. 77), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 297. J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 365.
2 Letter K. 122, quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 365.
3 Letter CCVIII (W. 71), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 209. Letter CCXVI (W. 96), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 299-300. Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 213. J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 365.
4 Letter CCXVI (W. 96), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 300. J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 366.
for the second time if his messengers again returned from Egypt without help. His last pathetic letters, despatched from the midst of a starving city over which he was daily losing control, are worth quoting in extenso. In this summary review of the Syrian unrest, we shall at least give one or two extracts from them. In one message, Ribaddi compares his present plight as a faithful vassal of Egypt with what his position would have been in the days when the Pharaohs’ power was feared in conquered land: “Once,” says he, “at the sight of an Egyptian, the kings of Canaan fled from before him, but now the sons of Abdashirta despise the people of Egypt and threaten me with their bloody weapons.”1 His position had even been much stronger in the beginning of the Amorite rebellion: “When Abdashirta formerly came out against me, I was mighty, and behold, now my people are scattered and I am small. . . .”2 And letter after letter brings us always that same entreating appeal to Akhnaton to intervene vigorously and save his Asiatic dominions: “Let not my Lord the King neglect the affair of these dogs!”; and always the same unfailing loyalty, firm to the bitter end; that loyalty that found its expression even while Aziru and his men were battering at the walls of Gebal. “So long as I am in the city, I guard it for my Lord, and my heart is right towards my Lord the king, so that I will not betray the city to the sons of Abdashirta. For to this end has my brother stirred up the city, that it may be delivered up to the sons of Abdashirta. O let not my Lord the king neglect the city! For in it there is a very great quantity of silver and gold, and in the temples of its gods there is a great amount of property of all sorts.”3 And finally, the last words of a gallant soldier keeping his master informed, to the end, about a situation henceforth hopeless: “The enemy do not depart from the gates of Gebal.”4 Meanwhile, Ribaddi’s son, who had been sent to Egypt to beg for help, waited over three months before he could obtain an audience from the king.
1 Quoted from Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, pp. 305-306.
2 Quoted from Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 306.
3 Letter K. 137, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 366.
4 Quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 366.
Gebal was stormed, as so many other cities had been. Ribaddi fell alive into Aziru’s hands, and the rebel leader gave him over to his colleagues, the Amorite princes, to be put to death, probably not without torture. With him disappeared the sincerest champion of Egyptian rule in North Syria.
The news of the fall of Gebal must have been a blow to all those who felt for the greatness of Egypt. For not only did the city contain “a great quantity of gold and silver,” but it had maintained an unbroken connection with Egypt for long centuries. Montet’s excavations in 1921 brought to light on its site the remains of an Egyptian temple dating back to the time of King Unas, of the Fifth Dynasty — one thousand five hundred years before the conquests of Thotmose the Third. Another temple had been built there during the Twelfth Dynasty, and the local god and goddess — the “Lord and Lady of Gebal” — had been identified with Ra and Hathor. So that Ribaddi was right when he wrote to his overlord in Akhetaton: “Let the king search the records of the house of his fathers and see if the man who is in Gebal is not a true servant of the king.”1
But Akhnaton seems to have been more grieved for the death of the faithful vassal who had struggled and suffered for his sake with the bitter feeling of being abandoned, than for the loss of all his possessions. He had probably been for long aware of Aziru’s duplicity, and one would think that he only half accepted the clever excuses which the rebel leader put forth each time he was asked an explanation of his behaviour. He had commanded him to rebuild Simyra.2 He had summoned him to Egypt to give an account of all the fighting in which he had been involved — perhaps also to answer the accusations brought against him by Abi-Milki, Ribaddi and others. He had sent Khani, a special envoy,3 to see what he was doing, and possibly to bring him back with him to Akhetaton. The Amorite had always very carefully
1 Quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 349.
2 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 211. J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 369.
3 J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 370.
avoided the issue, now begging for a delay,1 now running away from his headquarters in order not to meet the king’s messenger.2 And Akhnaton had taken no step against him. He did not insist on knowing more about his intrigues. He probably held Aziru to be an ambitious princeling, impatient to aggrandise his territory — like most dynasts, when they could do so. But he does not appear to have judged him capable of having a helpless prisoner done to death in cold blood. The news of that deed came to him as a painful revelation. And the long letter he wrote to his treacherous vassal on that occasion shows a sad amazement in front of the darkest side of humanity suddenly thrust before him by hard facts. “Dost thou not write to the king thy Lord: ‘I am thy servant like all the former princes who were in Gebal’? Yet hast thou committed this crime? . . .”3 Then comes the story of how Ribaddi was handed over by Aziru to the Amorite confederates; and Akhnaton continues: “Didst thou not know the hatred of those men for him? If thou art indeed a servant of the king, why hast not thou arranged for his sending to the king thy Lord?”4
To send Ribaddi to Egypt, so that his accusing voice might be heard there, was the last thing which the traitor could have been expected to do. But Akhnaton was too good even to suspect such an amount of deceit and cruelty as that of his unworthy vassal.
* * *
Already before the fall of Byblos — perhaps even before the fall of Simyra — troubles had broken out in Palestine where
1 Letters K. 160 and K. 164, quoted by J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 369. Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 211.
2 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), p. 124. Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 212. J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 370.
3 Letter K. 162, of Akhnaton to Aziru, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), pp. 370-371.
4 Letter K. 162, of Akhnaton to Aziru, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 371.
Labaya (or Lapaya) and his sons, and Tagi, had greatly succeeded in bringing the wandering desert tribes — the Habiru — to assist them in a general uprising against Egyptian domination.
From the beginning, the letters of the few loyal dynasts to the Pharaoh had been — like those of Aki-izzi of Katna, of Abi-Milki of Tyre, and of the faithful Ribaddi, in Syria — repeated warnings against increasing danger. “Verily,” had written, for instance, Biridiya of Megiddo, “I guard Megiddo, the city of the king, my Lord, day and night. Mighty is the enmity of the people of the Sa-Gaz, in the land: therefore, let the king my Lord have regard to his land.”1 Yashdata of Taanach, another loyal chief, soon forced to fly for his life and seek refuge at Megiddo, had also written from there in the same tone. But just as in the case of Syria, no help seems to have been sent.
Labaya, captured by the supporters of Egypt, but allowed to escape by Zurata of Accho, a dynast who was playing a double game, was finally killed at Gina (the En-Gannim of the Bible). But his sons, like the sons of Abdashirta in North Syria, led the anti-Egyptian movement after his death. They did all they could to stir up the other local chieftains, using threats where persuasion failed. “Thus have the two sons of Labaya spoken unto me,” wrote one of these, named Addukarradu, to the king of Egypt. “‘Show hostility to the people of Gina,’ said they, ‘because they have slain our father. And if thou dost not show hostility, we shall be thine enemies’; But,” added he speedily, “I answered them: ‘The God of the king my Lord forbid that I should show hostility towards the folk of Gina, the servants of the king my Lord.’”2
But all were not as firm in their loyalty, and from the Plain of Jezreel, where it had probably begun, the disaffection and civil strife spread, on both sides of the Jordan, and soon reached as far south as Gezer. We get from all sides reports of aggression upon towns which still retain their allegiance to Egypt, and news of robbery along the trade-routes, on the part of the Habiru. In one of his letters, Burnaburiash, king
1 Letter K. 243, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 377.
2 Letter K. 250, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 379.
of Babylon, complains to Akhnaton about the plunder of one of his caravans in Egyptian territory, with loss of life, and asks for compensations.1 The aggressor was none other but Shutatna, the son of that Zurata of Accho, who, in collaboration with one Shumaddhu (Shamu-addu), also a vassal of Egypt, had helped Labaya to escape. On the other hand, Addu-dani (of Gath?) writes that “Beia, the son of Gulati,” has “plundered the city and laid a heavy ransom upon its captives”2; Dangatakala,3 another local dynast, a queen named Ninur,4 who styles herself as the Pharaoh’s handmaid, and several others, write entreating despatches, asking Akhnaton for help against the Habiru. Time passed, and no help came. Finally, Jerusalem itself was threatened.
The governor of that city, Abdikhipa, seems to have been in Palestine what Ribaddi was in Syria: a wholehearted supporter of Egyptian rule, taking the Pharaoh’s interests as though they were his own. He had at first allied himself with Shuwardata of Keilah, Zurata of Accho, Milki-ili, and other dynasts and appealed, along with them, to Yankhamu to intervene against the increasing rebellion. But soon those men whom he had trusted proved false, and the situation changed entirely. The governor of Jerusalem wrote to Akhnaton telling him that Milki-ili was siding with his father-in-law, Tagi — one of the chiefs heading the rebellion, and that he had attacked him.5 In a subsequent message he announced that, “through the intrigues of Milki-ili and the sons of Labaya,” Gezer, Askalon, and Lachish had become hostile to Egypt; that the royal mail had been robbed in the fields of Aijalon — only fourteen miles from Jerusalem — and that, if no troops came speedily, nothing would be left of the
1 Letter CXXIV (W. 11), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 285. S. Cook: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 313.
2 Letter K. 292 (W. 239); Letter CCLX in Sir Flinders Petrie’s History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 308-309.
3 Letter CCLXIII (W. 216), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 309. A. Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 210.
4 Letters CCLXV (W. 173), CCXLVI (W. 174), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 309.
5 Letter CCXXXII (W. 186), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 303; also Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 315.
king’s lands.1 We learn from another correspondent that Lachish had seized Mukhrashti, its eastern neighbour,2 and again from Abdikhipa, that Milki-ili and Shuwardata had “hired men of Gazri (Gezer), Ginti (Gath), and Kilti (Keilah), and seized the land of Rubuti (Rabbah)”; that “men of Kilti” (Keilah) had taken “Bit-Ninib, a city of the king” in the territory of Jerusalem, and that if no troops were sent the whole land would fall to the Habiru.3
In the meantime, Shuwardata protested of his innocence — “Let the king ask,” wrote he, “if I have ever taken a man, or an ox, or an ass from him”4 — and even accused Abdikhipa of disloyalty.5 Tagi, the rebel leader, who, like Aziru in Syria, never lost an opportunity of reasserting his allegiance to Egypt, even managed to obtain a personal interview from the king. As in Syria, the Egyptian officers on the spot seem either to have lacked insight or to have been, perhaps, themselves, of doubtful loyalty to Akhnaton. They often favoured the disloyal dynasts, and it is perhaps on the report of some of them that Abdikhipa did not obtain from the Pharaoh as ready a hearing as the double-faced Tagi. He complained bitterly of this in his letters. “By the life of the king my Lord,” wrote he, “because I spoke thus to the officer of the king my Lord: ‘Why dost thou love the Habiru and hate the regents?’ therefore I am slandered before the king my Lord. Because I say: ‘The lands of the king my Lord are being lost,’ therefore I am slandered before the king my Lord.”6
As time passed, things fared worse and worse for Egypt. The territory north of Jerusalem was now lost as well as the hill country to the west of the city and the entire sea-coast. “Now,” wrote Abdikhipa, “the Habiru occupy the cities.
1 Letter CCLIV (W. 180), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 307.
2 Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 315.
3 Letter CCLVI (W. 183), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 307. Also Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 315.
4 Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, pp. 315-316.
5 Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 315. Letter CCLI (W. 165), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, p. 306.
6 Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 315. Letter K. 286, quoted by Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), pp. 379-380.
Not one prince remains; all are ruined.”1 No longer able to defend himself against the rebel chiefs, let alone to guarantee the safety of the trade-routes without the Pharaoh’s help, he stuck however to his post, as long as he possibly could: “The king has set his name upon the land of Jerusalem, for ever,” wrote he in one of his despatches, “therefore I cannot forsake the land of Jerusalem.”2
The same insistence upon the emergency of the situation and the necessity of immediate action is repeatedly found in all the faithful governor’s letters, to the end. “The whole land of the king my Lord is going to ruin; send Yankhamu to care for the king’s land,” or “If no troops come this year, all the lands of the king my Lord will be lost.” Such sentences reappear as a leit-motif in nearly all the despatches from Jerusalem. Moreover, Abdikhipa, who seems to have been personally acquainted with Akhnaton’s cuneiform scribe, often added to his messages a “post-scriptum” addressed to him. And the post-scriptum was the same as the message itself — a desperate warning: “To the scribe of the king my Lord, thus speaks thy servant, Abdikhipa: Bring clearly before the king my Lord these words: ‘All the lands of the king my Lord are going to ruin.’”3
But no help was sent.
Finally, Palestine seems to have become too unsafe for any man openly loyal to Egypt to remain there. “Turbatsu was slain at the gate of Zilu,” writes Abdikhipa; “and Yaptiaddi” — another supporter of the Pharaoh’s rule — “was also slain at the gate of Zilu. Send troops to Jerusalem or all will be lost.” And he adds: “If there are no troops this year, let the king my Lord send an officer to fetch me and my brothers, that we may die (in Egypt) with the king my Lord.”4
There is no evidence that any step was taken by the king of Egypt, at the last moment, in order to recover even a part of his lost territories, or at least to save Jerusalem, which
1 Letter CXXXIV (W. 181), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 303-304.
2 Quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 383.
3 Letter K. 286, quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 381.
4 Letter CCXXXIV (W. 181), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899), Vol. II, pp. 303-304. Letter K. 288, quoted by J. Baikie, The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 381.
appears to have been his last important stronghold in Asia. From the boundaries of Asia Minor and Northern Mesopotamia down to the Sinai Desert, Egyptian domination now became a thing of the past; a thing, nay, that was never to be again — for though warrior-like Pharaohs were soon to enter again into Canaan and resume the old northward march at the head of their armies, they were to recover and retain but a small portion of the provinces which Akhnaton had allowed “to go to ruin.”
* * *
In the preceding pages we have tried to give, from the Amarna Letters, a rough sketch of the main developments in Syria and Palestine under Akhnaton. We purposely avoided all comments so that the reader might get a faithful picture of the unrest and nothing more. But that picture itself is not complete unless one visualises what horrible realities often lay under the few brief sentences that have come down to us in those thirty-three-hundred-year-old official despatches from the Pharaoh’s correspondents. The details given in a few letters are sufficient to help one’s imagination. For instance, in his complaint mentioned above about the plundering of one of his caravans, King Burnaburiash informs Akhnaton that, apart from several merchants having been killed by the robbers, “Shumadda has kept one of the Babylonians with his feet cut off; Shutatna has taken another as his slave. . . .”1
Reports such as this show that man was no better in the fourteenth century B.C. then he is to-day. And if, to the gratuitous atrocities committed by chieftains in no way different from ordinary cut-throats and by the ferocious tribesmen who were in their pay, we add the well-known brutalities inherent to warfare — and especially to civil warfare — in all times, we shall begin to form some idea of the true story told by the Amarna Letters. We shall realise that behind the mention of a single word, the casual reference to
1 Letter CXXIV (W. 11), Sir Flinders Petrie, History of Egypt (Edit. 1899, Vol. II, p. 285.
a new place to which war had spread, lay the fact of villages reduced to ashes in the midst of devastated fields and vineyards. We shall feel that every enumeration of a few towns “fallen to the Sa-Gaz” — every line that is, for most modern readers, but a list of picturesque names — covers all the horrors of a series of sieges: furious assaults repelled at the point of the sword; burning missiles setting on fire whole clusters of men and beasts (we have a hint of what it was in the desperate letters of Abi-Milki of Tyre and of Ribaddi of Gebal); then, wild men, half-soldiers, half-brigands, maddened by the lust of violence, rushing through the breaches in crumbling walls; pillage, murder, outrage; children and young maidens torn from their frantic mothers; whole populations driven away and sold in the slave-markets of Syria — a natural consequence of ancient warfare which we tend to forget.
And that is not all. We must picture to ourselves, fleeing in terror before the Sa-Gaz and the Habiru, the endless lines of Egyptian, Syrian and Canaanite refugees who had lost all they possessed; men, women and children, pouring into Egypt across the Sinai Desert, by hundreds and by thousands, ragged and dirty, exhausted, sick, half-starved — some of them half-insane — with recent scenes of rape, slaughter and torture still vivid before their eyes; the people of whom an Egyptian officer in charge of them said: “They have been destroyed and their towns laid waste, and fire has been thrown (into their grain). . . . Their countries are starving; they live like goats of the mountains.”1
All this could easily have been avoided. A few war-chariots and a few hundreds of mercenaries sent in time would have sufficed; and Akhnaton had at his disposal, as we have seen, the man-power and resources of the greatest empire then existing. Moreover, he seems to have known the danger that was threatening his dominions; he knew it, perhaps not to the extent the modern historian knows it (with the account of the aftermath of the rebellion open before him), but he knew it enough to feel the necessity of taking
1 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 125.
some immediate measures if he did not wish to see “the whole land” lost to him. We have recalled that he was suspicious about Aziru’s behaviour; that he summoned him to Egypt and even sent a special messenger to inquire of his dealings — a messenger whom the intriguing Amorite did all he could not to meet. In the letter which he wrote to his faithless vassal, the Pharaoh reproached him for having eaten a covenant meal with the “man of Kadesh” — Itakama — who was an enemy of Egypt, and for having allied himself to him.1 This proves that he knew all about Itakama’s collaboration with the Hittites. He was probably more aware of the situation than a few modern writers seem to believe. And he wanted peace: “Know thou,” wrote he to Aziru, “that the king desireth not that the whole land of Canaan should be in turmoil.”2 And he was fully conscious of his own power to enforce it: “I am very well,” wrote he again, “I, the Sun in the heavens; and my chariots and soldiers are exceedingly numerous; and from Upper Egypt, even unto Lower Egypt, and from the place where the Sun riseth even unto the place where He setteth, the whole country is in good cause and content.”3
And yet he did not send help to the faithful vassals who only begged for the privilege of keeping the empire whole in his name.
* * *
It is easy to imagine the bewilderment of the messengers from Syria and Palestine when they found no response to their cries for military aid in the new capital of Egypt; no reaction to their indignant tales of aggression, save perhaps, in the young king’s large dark eyes, a depth of sadness that they were utterly unable to understand — instead of the expected anger and lust for revenge; no preparation for war, in answer to their desperate warnings.
It is easy to put one’s self in the place of Ribaddi’s son, running all the way from beleaguered Gebal with the one
1 Akhnaton’s Letter to Aziru (already quoted).
2 Akhnaton’s Letter to Aziru (already quoted).
3 Akhnaton’s Letter to Aziru, quoted by A. Weigall, Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 196.
fear that he might reach Egypt too late, only to find himself waiting over three months for Akhnaton to grant him an audience; and then, once in the sacred presence of that mighty monarch in whom he had put all hopes, recalling before him the horrors of the siege of Gebal only to get from him, for all answer, the assurance that he felt for the sufferings of his people but that he did not wish to keep by force a land in which so many princes seemed to be opposed to his rule! The young man probably realised that the king was thoroughly sincere; that the sympathy he expressed was not a mere lip-sympathy. He had seen his face darken with immeasurable sorrow all the time he had spoken to him. He had perhaps even seen a tear roll down his pale cheek. No, this was no hard-hearted king who did not care what happened to those who were struggling for him far away. And we can imagine the son of Ribaddi slowly walking down the steps of the palace with one question troubling his mind: “Then, why no help for us? Why? Why?”
The bearer of the pathetic letter from the elders of Tunip had in vain tortured his brains in search of an answer to the same question. The bearers of all the despatches addressed to Akhnaton by the few vassal princes and governors of cities who remained loyal to him — of all those despatches that “even now move the reader”1 — had done the same. Anyone can imagine their feelings.
Thirty-three hundred years later, modern authors were to condemn Akhnaton’s “supineness and apathy”2 in the name of their sympathy for the loyal people of Syria and Canaan. “All the letters tell the same story of successful revolt on the part of the subjects of Egypt, and the capture and plundering and burning of towns and villages by the Khabiri, and the robbery of caravans on all the trade routes,” writes Sir Wallis Budge. “And whilst all this was going on, the king of Egypt remained unmoved and only occupied himself with the cult of his god.”3 It is easier to condemn a man — and
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 209.
2 J. Baikie: The Amarna Age (Edit. 1926), p. 375.
3 Sir Wallis Budge: Tutankhamen, Amenism, Atenism, and Egyptian Monotheism (Edit. 1923), p. 102.
especially such a man, far in advance of his own times and of ours — than to try to analyse his motives.
* * *
Just as we can realise the distress of the Syrian envoys when returning home without any promises of help, so we can also picture to ourselves what the crafty Aziru probably felt when, after crushing all his opponents, he at last decided that he could now go to Egypt and see the king, who had summoned him there years before. He sailed up the Nile in gaudy apparel, expecting, no doubt, to impress the Egyptians. But he was himself dazzled at the sight of the City of the Horizon of Aton, and still more so at that of Akhnaton’s splendid palace. And though the secret supporters he had at the Egyptian court — a nobleman named Tutu, to whom he had been writing regularly, and others, too — had told him that he had nothing to fear from his overlord; though they had spoken to him of the strange new God in Whose eyes the friends and enemies of Egypt were equal, yet he could hardly believe the Pharaoh’s leniency. With such wealth at his disposal, he, Aziru, son of Abdashirta, would have hired soldiers from all countries and built and empire for himself, thought he, as he gazed in amazement at the magnificent temples of Akhetaton, or as he walked through the glittering audience hall of the palace, with its over five hundred columns of gold and lapis lazuli. And this monarch had done nothing even to keep the lands his fathers had conquered! What sort of a king was he? A weakling, afraid to fight, or a fool whom the Amorite’s clever lies had deceived? The Pharaohs of old would have sacrificed such a fellow as himself, Aziru, their enemy, to the battle-god Amon, with their own axe. Aziru knew it well. But the present king treated him kindly. He reproached him, it is true, with the murder of Ribaddi and of several other loyal princes. But he did not punish him for it. And the Amorite, merely recognising the suzerainty of Egypt as a matter of courtesy, went back to Syria as the ruler of a practically independent State — quite content with himself. His plans had
succeeded — so he believed. He had all along deceived that impossible dreamer who now held the throne of the conquerors of Syria. At least, he thought he had. He was incapable of feeling what an amount of suffering there was in Akhnaton’s words when he had recalled Ribaddi’s capture, betrayal, and death. He still less realised what conceptions of international justice, far beyond his age and many ages to come, lay behind the king’s attitude towards himself as the head of the Amorite rebellion — the “Syrian nationalist,” as we would say to-day. He saw Akhnaton; he spoke to him; yet he remained as alien to him and as ignorant of him as ever: an exalted savage, in presence of “the first man in whose heart was no trace of barbarism.”1
We can also, to a very great extent, imagine the comments of the victims of the Syrian war, the hungry, ragged, tired men who poured into Egypt by thousands across the border of Canaan and the Sinai Desert. The king, thought they, was the cause of their plight. He had abandoned them. He was now doing his best to relieve them, feeding them, housing them, clothing them, making the best possible arrangements to comfort the sick and bury the dead, to the utmost capacity of his officers. But could he give them back what the Sa-Gaz and the Habiru had burnt and destroyed? — and their dear ones who had been killed? — and all that their homes had meant to them? Why had he not sent troops to protect them, when it was still time?
The agents of the priests of Amon and of the other national gods — the enemies of the king — would go and tell them “why.” They were many; they had never ceased being at work in Egypt; and possibly they had played a part in the Syrian rebellion itself, stirring up the vassals against their overlord. The king, they told these distressed people, was an apostate, a “heretic,” an enemy of all the gods. How could one expect him not to be an enemy of men also? The wrath of Amon and of all the gods was upon Egypt and her people because of him. Amon had made Egypt great. He had guided the armies of her kings to victory. He would have helped
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 251.
them for ever to maintain peace and order in a flourishing empire. But the present Pharaoh had raised his hand against the “king of gods.” He had sought to destroy him. And now Amon was taking his revenge upon him and upon the nation that still tolerated him. And the unfortunate folk believed what they were told, for they feared the priests and feared the gods of Egypt. And so they grew to hate the best of kings, who loved them.
As for the priests of Amon themselves, they so loathed Akhnaton’s rule that they welcomed anything that would put an end to it. Outwardly full of patriotic grief at the news of Egypt’s disasters, they rejoiced in their hearts, counting the days of him whom they already called “that criminal.” Every new blow to the Pharaoh’s prestige prepared the day when they would again seize power and dominate both the king and the country more strongly than ever.
Finally, we can imagine the gradual disaffection of the courtiers — even of many of those who, at first, had enthusiastically “hearkened to the king’s Teaching” — when they saw where the principles of the Religion of the Disk were leading the country. More and more Akhnaton must have discerned that the homages paid in his presence to his God were considered by numbers of those who rendered them as merely a part of the court etiquette. He must have realised, as time passed, and as things went worse in Syria, that he was more and more alone — out of touch with his people, out of touch with his nobles, out of touch with his age, with the tradition of his country, with the tradition of the world; with the present and the past; perhaps out of touch with the future, too, for ever; a man without roots in any soil, without a hold over any other men; an isolated Individual, in tune, it was true, with the everlasting Soul of the Sun, but without a place anywhere in the human world.
A time probably came when nobody loved him apart from his devoted queen and a handful of faithful friends. And even those were too far below him to understand him to the end. Their love was soothing. But still he was alone. He had always been alone, as one who lived on the plane of eternal truth in the midst of admirers and enemies who all lived in
relative truth, if not in falsehood — in time. He only realised it, perhaps, to a greater extent than ever, now that his truth of all times and all lands — the brotherhood of living creatures, and therefore of men — came into open clash with the belief of his age: the necessity of defending an empire on the existence of which was based his own world-supremacy as king of Egypt.
Let us examine, in the light of what we know of the Religion of the Disk, that conflict between the God-conscious, eternal Individual — above country and above time1 — that Akhnaton was, and the average man, carrying even into the most exalted states the prejudices of his environment, that his contemporaries wanted him to be. We shall perhaps then understand what motives more powerful than self-interest, and more powerful than pity, gave the young Pharaoh the strange courage to set aside the heart-rending letters of his loyal vassals (even those of Ribaddi, of Abdikhipa; even that of the elders of Tunip), and watch his empire go to pieces without interfering.
It may appear less easy to picture to one’s self his reactions to the Syrian events than those of either his vassals (loyal or disloyal), his courtiers, his enemies, or his lesser subjects. But to try to do so is essential, for only thus can we hope to understand the value of Akhnaton’s example, and the everlasting actuality of his forgotten Teaching.
Breasted, speaking of Aziru’s being granted a year’s delay, when the king could easily have insisted on his appearing before him at once, says that this “shows the astonishing leniency of Akhnaton, in a manner which would indicate that he was opposed to measures of force such as his fathers had employed.”2
There can be no doubt that there was, at the root of the Pharaoh’s behaviour towards the men seeking to wreck his empire (or opposing his reforms in Egypt) a spontaneous
1 The real key to Akhnaton’s strange “pacifism” lies precisely in the fact that he was a man “above Time” who endeavoured to impose his lofty ideals upon this Dark Age (both his and ours) without taking into account the fact that violence is the law of any revolution within Time, specially in the Dark Age. (The Kali Yuga, of the Hindus.)
2 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 124.
propensity to kindness. Akhnaton was the last man to be harsh, even to his declared enemies. He realised too well what suffering meant to inflict it or have it inflicted, under any pretext, upon man or beast — even upon a traitor as a punishment; and violence — let alone cruelty — was altogether out of keeping with his tender, sensitive nature.
But that would not be enough to explain his apparent apathy throughout the Syrian unrest. The appeals from Irkata, from Simyra and from Tunip, from Byblos and from Jerusalem for immediate succour, were sufficiently distressing, sufficiently pathetic to move the most callous overlord to prompt action. The sufferings of his faithful supporters must have been at least as painful to Akhnaton as those of the discontented cities that welcomed the rule of Amorites (and finally that of the Hittites) in place of his. His attitude was not dictated by mere sentiment. Had it been so, it is probable that, in spite of his reluctance for bloodshed, he would have thrown in all his might on the side of the helpless vassals who begged for his “strong hand” to deliver them. To answer the cry: “Tunip, thy city, weeps . . .” he perhaps would have gone to Syria himself. But it was not a matter of feelings alone. It was a question of principles. “Marshalling the material available for the study of this period of history,” writes Arthur Weigall, “one can interpret the events in Syria in only one way: Akhnaton definitely refused to do battle, believing that a resort to arms was an offence to God. Whether fortune or misfortune, gain or loss, was to be his lot, he would hold to his principles, and would not return to the old gods of battle.”1
A very important question arises — a question which, as far as we know, has not yet been put forward by any of the writers who exalt or condemn Akhnaton’s “pacifism” — and that is whether or not the young Founder of the Religion of the Disk would have resorted to arms in order to defend Egypt herself, in the eventuality of foreign aggression. No answer can be given, for in his days Egypt was not attacked. Still the point remains; and it is an interesting point. Had
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 202.
the enemies who stood before him been, not the Amorites, the Habiru, the Sa-Gaz — the natives of Syria and Palestine fighting to chase out of their own country its Egyptian overlords and their local supporters — but people from a foreign land rushing across the desert to seize and lay waste his lovely Nile Valley; to destroy the splendid City which he himself had built to be the centre of a world-religion of beauty, the question (even if history can suggest no reply to it) can at least be put: would then Akhnaton have stood back and watched the disaster without trying to prevent it? Would he have tried to prevent it by means other than a resort to armed force? And if those means failed, or were unthinkable (as in the case of an inroad of barbaric hordes that force alone can stop) would he, then, have fought with that self-same indomitable courage that he actually exercised in order to remain inactive?
He undoubtedly believed in a religion of universal love which, even if superficially practised by governments as well as by individuals, would make international relations friendly. Did he believe, however, that in a world in which aggression is an impending possibility, a nation should always be, even in peace-time, prepared for war, with up-to-date armaments in sufficient quantity? One would think so, from the few sentences of his letter which we have quoted above.1 But he never used that power to defend his dominions, to keep conquered land under his sway. Again, would he have done so to protect his native soil?
We leave the reader to think of these questions to which, in the present state of our knowledge, no definite answer can be given on a sound historic basis. The point we wished to stress in raising them is that the immediate problem to which Akhnaton, by his non-intervention in the Syrian unrest, gave the boldest practical solution ever put forth, is not that of war accepted for the defence of one’s own country, but that of war waged to defend one’s foreign possessions — to keep one’s colonies and vassal States under control. And the solution provided by him for the first and, it would also seem, for the last time in history, consisted of nothing less
1 See p. 225.
than to watch the struggle of the conquered country’s nationalists (as we would call them to-day) against the local supporters of foreign rule, without interfering; to allow the “disloyal” elements to become the masters in their own land, if they really commanded a sufficient following; to let the princes and people of a restless empire fight out their own conflicts, solve their own problems, and create their own history. Furthermore, it consisted of nothing less than to allow even foreign powers to take the upper hand in the affairs of the disaffected land, if such was the consequence of the policy of its successful leaders. In the particular case under study, the one actually to benefit from Aziru’s machinations against his Egyptian overlord was ultimately neither Aziru himself nor his people — the Amorites — nor any Syrian impatient of foreign domination, but Shubbiluliuma, king of the Hittites. And Hittite rule was to prove far more exacting, far more ruthless, far more unbearable than the Egyptian. Yet Akhnaton contented himself with severing diplomatic relations with Shubbiluliuma; at least, Shubbiluliuma’s written grievances would tend to prove that he did so. But he did nothing to prevent the advance of the Hittite troops and their union with the forces of the local anti-Egyptian princes. He did nothing either to help his loyal vassals, or to help the movement for independence, of which he probably foresaw the gloomy aftermath.
He acted — or better, abstained from acting — as though the land conquered by his fathers were not his. In other words, from the time he understood that a number of Syrian and Canaanite local dynasts did not want his rule, he ceased to consider himself as their overlord. He styled himself as such, it is true, in the letters that he sent even to such disloyal princes as Aziru. But that was because Aziru and all the others, however wildly anti-Egyptian, maintained a pretence of loyalty in their official correspondence with him. In fact, he never treated them or endeavoured even to treat them as an overlord desiring to stress his rights would have done.
* * *
One must not imagine that Akhnaton’s position as an absolute “non-imperialist” at the head of an empire was an easy or a pleasant one. He suffered, in order to maintain it, and to leave the world the unique example which he left, even in what appeared to be an all-round failure. The modern commentators of his history seem to forget this fact, when they hasten to tax him with “supineness and apathy.” He suffered; and no man having a heart can remain unmoved at the idea of the superhuman courage with which he stood to the end, in the midst of increasing disaster and hatred, firm in the truth which he had realised.
It is true that, far from experiencing the greed of a conqueror, he was alien to that particular pride which many great rulers seems to have drawn from the tranquil possession of other people’s territory. Even his own territory he regarded first as “his Father’s” — as the domain of the Sun, where man and beast were to thrive in love and happiness; not as the property of any earthly monarch. “Hills, deserts, embankments, high-lands, low-lands, islands, villages, men, beasts . . . all things which the Aton produces, and on which His rays shine, they shall be for the Father, the living Aton . . .” had he said in one of the boundary-inscriptions when he had laid the foundations of his sacred City — the model of a world governed by his spirit. And one may believe, from his attitude towards his dominions, that he regarded them, too, from the beginning, not as his personal property, nor as an annexe of Egypt, but as lands of the Sun — as were, in his eyes, all lands on earth; as countries that existed, not for a few Egyptians to draw profit out of them, but for them themselves to flourish and be happy, with all the creatures that the One Sun of the whole world nourished upon their surface. To believe in the “rights” of one nation over others would have been to him (from all we know of his religion) a return to the idolatrous worship of local gods. He did not, he could not, regret the loss of Syria and Palestine in themselves.
But he could not lightly brush aside his feelings for his subjects who struggled and suffered there, in the midst of the turmoil of civil war, supporters of Egypt against the supporters of Amor or of the Hittites. His vivid imagination, of
which we have a proof in his poems, must have brought before his eyes, so as to say, all the horror of the battles and sieges which the messengers described to him with the eloquence of despair. And he knew he could put a stop to that horror, and bring back peace and normal life to Syria whenever he liked, with one single order. Only that order would have implied that the loyal vassals fighting for him had more the right to rule Syria than the disloyal ones, fighting for themselves (or, unknowingly, for the king of the Hittites); that Syria was his, because his fathers had conquered it, before being, like all the world, the free land of Him Who made it and fed it — the Sun’s. Such an order he could not give. The universal fatherhood of the Sun meant, to him, the universal brotherhood of nations no less than of individuals. To him there could not be two standards of behaviour: one for individual men and the other for States. One nation could not overrule another, unless the people of that other were happy to remain under its domination. One man — even he; nay, especially he, the conscious Son of the Sun — could not assert his suzerainty over others against their will as clearly expressed as was the will of the Syrian and Canaanite princes in their long-stretched anti-Egyptian agitation. Such overlordship bred hatred, even as conquest itself bred hatred. It was an expression of separateness; a denial of the world’s unity. He, Akhnaton, Son of the Sun, and one with the One Father of all life, could not go against the law of love which was the great law of life, revealed to him from within.
On the other hand, he could not abdicate — run away from the pressing empire problems. He could not say: “I have not conquered the empire; it is no concern of mine.” The facts were there; he had to face them, if his lofty religion was to be of any meaning in the living, struggling world. By remaining in constant and painful touch with the realities of a widespread colonial revolt — the consequence of conquest, that is to say of greed, that ultimate source of all wars — and yet by refusing to keep his empire by force; by retaining to the end a non-imperialistic attitude, he had to demonstrate that the law of love and freedom, in which he believed,
should be and can be the basis of international relations. He had to remain deaf to the cries of distress of those who loved him and wanted his rule, in order to allow all the princes of Syria to have their say and play their part in the affairs of the land of their fathers, and to put, once for all, an end to the situation which had led to the anti-Egyptian unrest — to the injustice and hatred resulting from the Egyptian conquest. In order to be true to the Sun, his Father, Who made all lands and favours none, he had to take the course which he took.
But it was not a pleasant course — far from it. Akhnaton stood aloof from the war that was raging throughout his Asiatic dominions; he did not remain unmoved. On the contrary, one cannot but believe that the desperate letters he received from his faithful servants were to him “as so many sword-thrusts,” and “one may picture him praying passionately for strength to set them aside.”1 He gladly sacrificed the riches of Syria to the central idea of his religion and to the consistency of his life. He accepted the loss of the cities which, like Byblos, contained “a quantity of gold and silver and a great amount of property of all sorts.”2 It was less easy for him to forsake, even in the name of the same high principles, the men who were dying for the cause of imperial Egypt on the ramparts of those cities, with the love of his name in their hearts. Those alone who can realise the depth of his love — and they are not many — can hope to realise something of that “very Agony”3 which he suffered when reading the lamentable despatch from the people of Tunip, or Ribaddi’s last messages from the midst of a starving city. And what added to his suffering was, no doubt, the fact that it was impossible for him to make anyone understand the motives of his apparently strange attitude. Nobody, not even those who professed to be his followers, could, it seems, make out why his devotion to Aton, the One Sun, the One God, should clash with his imperial “duties.” For
1 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 209.
2 Letter K. 137, quoted above.
3 Arthur Weigall: Life and Times of Akhnaton (New and Revised Edit. 1922), p. 207.
they could not realise what the One Sun meant to him. They thought that he who had built in Syria a town destined to be, like Akhetaton itself, a radiating centre of the new faith, would naturally do anything in his power to keep Syria under control, that he might win it over entirely to his God. They could not realise that Akhnaton’s impersonal God, the Energy within the Disk, was not one to whom worshippers can be brought by a show of force; that knowledge, genuine religious experience, the vivid consciousness of universal unity and universal order were at the basis of his cult, and that the hatred generated by conquest and kept alive in the conquered people by measures of violence, was utterly uncongenial to the creation of those conditions. The far-sighted logic of his attitude was alien to them. Even his beloved queen, Nefertiti, could probably not follow him. She just accepted what he did, out of personal devotion to him, without judging him, and kept her confidence in his mission, till the end, because she loved him.
And if his closest friends and disciples could not transcend with him the deep-rooted imperialism of their time (and of many a time to come), how was he to justify his attitude in the eyes of the men who were fighting for him in faraway Syria, most of whom still clung (as their letters show) to the national gods that he had abolished? How was he to tell the messenger who brought him the distressed letter from Tunip, why he was sending him back without a promise of help? How was he to explain to Ribaddi’s son why he could send no troops to his father or to anyone? (That is perhaps the reason why he kept the young man waiting three months and a half before deciding to speak to him.)
Still, he himself could not help seeing both sides of the conflict. He felt sympathy for his faithful vassals; he could not help feeling sympathy also for the “unfaithful” ones who were seeking to overthrow his rule, as his fathers had once overthrown the rule of the foreign Hyksos kings in Egypt. He could not help knowing that, at the root of all the trouble, lay the hatred that conquest always generates in a conquered people.
The One Father — the Sun — had made all nations “distinct
in speech and in the colour of their skin,” and He poured His life-giving rays over all of them. All were to live, happy and beautiful, and at peace. Conquest, the fruit of greed, was, like all forms of outrage, conceivable only to those who did not love the One Sun enough to love all His creatures impartially. And he, the Son of the universal Father — he who felt His divine Energy vibrating through his own nerves — could not lend himself to the holding down of a restless conquered land. He could not prolong a state of things which ignorance, self-pride, and greed had once created. He was to have nothing to do with “imperial duties” that were in contradiction with the principle of impartial love. It was not for him, who lived in Truth, to defend an order based upon falsehood.
* * *
Akhnaton died prematurely. And it is possible that the grief he felt for those whom he appeared to be abandoning hastened his death. “With him,” writes Breasted, passed away “such a spirit as the world had never seen before,”1 and we add: such as was never to reappear since. Eleven hundred years after him, India’s great emperor Asoka was one day to renounce war in the name of the Buddha’s message of universal love. But the question did not arise for him to retain or to lose for its sake the lands he had inherited from his fathers. He was allowed to die leaving his vast dominions prosperous and whole. Akhnaton seems to be the one king in history who, for the sake of a philosophy which logically excluded the support of any form of aggression, actually lost a great empire. The tragic circumstances which we have tried to recall and, on the other hand, the tremendous might and wealth that the young Pharaoh could have used to defend his imperial rights, make his sacrifice all the more remarkable.
And his message of love as a basis of international relations, in the place of the time-honoured law of violence; his refusal to subscribe to conquest as a fait accompli of which the
1 Breasted: Cambridge Ancient History (Edit. 1924), Vol. II, p. 127.
advantages to the conquering nation should be maintained anyhow — an attitude too modern for most rulers of men in our times — are all the more impressive precisely because they were proclaimed, not from a demagogue’s platform by a handful of hungry mob-agitators, but from a throne, by the hereditary owner of the greatest empire of his days; by an absolute monarch, fully conscious of his immense wealth and power; by an emperor, whom his subjects were taught by tradition to look upon as divine — without their realising how truly godlike he actually was.