JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, January 18, 2013


I come home in the morning light,
My mother says "When you gonna live your life right?"
Oh ,mother,dear, We're not the fortunate ones,
And girls, They wanna have fun.
I am not sure how to describe the Pharaoh's women. Collectively they were called a harem, but today that title   conjures up Victorian images of sex starved coquettes waiting impatiently for the a few moments attention from their sugar daddy -  a male Egyptologist's fantasy if ever there was one. It also seems an inefficient use of resources, what with years of housing, feeding and clothing so many sperm receptacles when, in the end, only one really counted. Surely these ancient women, like modern women,  had to be multi-taskers. For example, we know the Pharaoh's harem had a very nice choir.
But besides harmonizing, the ladies of the harem must have earned their keep between reproductive sessions by cutting ribbons at temple openings, encouraging teenagers to just say no to drugs and reminding stone masons of their vital role in the Pharaohonic economy. Proof of the importance of women in Ancient Egypt can be found in events which occurred some 4,200 years ago, at the end of what is called "The New Kingdom" - which gives you some idea of how old Egyptian civilization really is. In the spring of 1167 B.C.E. Ramses III sat down to talk with his wives, and he did not get up again.
Usimare (Ramses III's real name) was a good example of the vagaries of picking a Pharaoh. He looked the part. He was tall for the age - about 5.8", smart, competent and dedicated. His reign should have been as successful as his idol's, Ramses II, who during his 67 years of rule (according to tradition) threw those freeloading Israelites out Egypt. But Usimare was also a really unlucky guy.  Just before he became Pharaoh a volcano in Iceland blew its top, and the shadow of its ash cloud damaged Egyptian crops for twenty years. The price of wheat skyrocketed. Outside of Egypt entire civilizations of farmers and fishermen became hobos, stealing that they could not buy, be it food or and new place to live. It is suspected the new  vagabonds  became the Phoenicians, among other names. Those who settled In the Middle East were called the Philistines, and spent a couple of hundred years bringing "tsuris" to the wayward Israelites -  or maybe that was visa-versa. In Tunisia they established Carthage, and a thousand years later became the Roman Republic's worst enemy. In Egypt they were called the Sea Peoples, and fighting them off left the treasury flat broke. That distant volcanic eruption wasn't Ramses III's fault, but he got the bill. He just wasn't lucky. He wasn't even lucky in his death.
The phone rings in the middle of the night,
My father yells "What you gonna do with your life?"
You know you're still number one,
But girls, They wanna have fun
By the spring of 1167 B.C.E., poor, unlucky and broke Ramses III was about 65 years old and had been Pharaoh for thirty-two years. He now dragged his entire court to Thebes for the five day celebration of his Heb-Sed, or Feast of the Tail of the Jackal. This was a cross between Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee and Carnival time in Rio. There were parades, dinners, banquets and lots of drinking, and on the fourth day the Pharaoh had to "run" a course and shoot arrows to prove he was still fit enough to be Pharaoh. What they would have done if the old boy had not been up to it, I don't know. But in the Old Kingdom they used to kill the king if he was too feeble. 
As I said, Ramses III's harem had of course come with him, headed by his new Great Wife Isis-Ta-hemseret. The harem had given Ramses III ten sons. Six of the potential Kings were still living,  including Isis' boy, 22 year old newly crowned Prince Heqamatre. But there was also Prince Pentaweret, who was Ramses's son with Queen Tey.   Now, Tey's two eldest sons had already died, and Penatweret was just a few months younger than Heqamatre.  But that slight seniority had moved Heqamatre next in line to be Pharaoh over Pentaweret. That also meant that Hegmatre's mother Isis had replaced Tey as the new Great Wife. Ramses III could have overridden these automatic adjustments in his royal household if he had felt one heir more suited than the other, but for whatever reason he did nothing. And that would prove to be a fatal choice because Tey was the kind of a girl who carried a grudge. She could have stared in the "Jersey Shore".
Well, she wasn't a girl, she was a grown woman who had given birth to three sons, and she was at least forty years old by now. Still, Tey must have been an impressive broad, because six of the other wives sided with her in this matter. And they were all the daughters of powerful families.
In addition, Tey had considerable support from the bureaucracy which maintained the harem. Chief of the Chamber, Pebekkamen, and his assistant were down with her plan, as well as Peynok, Overseeer Of The Harem and his scribe and seven royal butlers, who were all titled members of the bureaucracy. Tey also managed to draw the army into her conspiracy. The sister of an officer in the Nubian Archers, who was one of the "harem six", urged her brother to "Incite the people to hostility! And come thou to begin hostility against thy lord." Well, I suppose, she could have been more circumspect. In any case, Tey even had conspirators working inside the local cops, the Thebian police force. She was also attempting to seduce the head of the Egyptian Treasury, which was called The White House. And Tey even managed to enlist Iroi, Ramses III's personal priest-physician. But it appears he was the only priest who joined the conspiracy. And that may have made all the difference.
Some boys take a beautiful girl,
And hide her away from the rest of the world.
I wanna be the one to walk in the sun.
Oh, girls, They wanna have fun.
See, ancient Egypt was peppered with temples, large and small, and each had their priests and their grain fields to support them, and slaves to work those fields. They were like corporations are today. By the best estimates, 14% of the irrigated land and 2% of the population were owned by the temple priests. The temples also owned 500,000 head of cattle, 88 large ships and some 53 workshops and shipyards. And in 1167 B.C. E. all of this was tax exempt, which shifted more of the tax burden onto the nobles and peasants. Does any of this sound familiar?
Ramses III tried to reduce his expenses by replacing his bureaucrats and large parts of the army with slaves, supplied by independent contractors, a practice in current vogue with the American government. But Ramses III also contributed to this power shift to the priesthood by continuing the practice of donating large sums to the temples. Gold and silver went straight out of the government coffers and into the collection plates. Ramses III boasted on a temple wall, "I did mighty deeds and benefactions...for the gods and goddesses of South and North." Those benefactions hastened the bankruptcy of the national treasury. Familiar again, right?
Just three years before this original "Year of the Woman" the artisans working in the royal tombs had stopped work because their pay had stopped. It was like a Republican government shutdown. Ramses crushed this first worker's revolt in history as if he were the Governor of Wisconsin. But that wildcat strike indicated what was at stake. Tey was not just trying to make her son Pharaoh, she was trying to reverse what she saw as the decline of the power of The Pharaohs. They couldn't prevent the next volcano from exploding, but then they did not realize that is what had bankrupted the nation. They figured Ramses III had angered the gods somehow. And it was just a lucky break for Tey that what the gods wanted also favored her and her son.  The whole thing came to a head, say the ancient accounts, near the end of the Heb Sed, when Ramses III decided to spend a night sitting with the girls. And this was a seriously bad choice, because while he talking with "the girls" somebody cut his throat. 
It was a professional hit. The button man or woman sliced a three inch wound across the old man's throat, just beneath the larynx, so he could not call out for help. But it did not matter, since, in the words of the British Medical Journal which imaged Ramses III's mummy  in 2012, 'The extent and depth of the wound indicated that it could have caused the immediate death of Ramesses III.” Poor Usimare, er, Rasmes III. And it was clear how the people of Egypt felt about his murder, because for centuries afterward, Egyptians invoked Ramses III's name when seeking divine assistance in the case of snake bite. And like a snake, Ramses III lashed out after death against those who had stepped upon him.
In three very public trials conducted after the murder, twenty-seven men and six women were convicted of treason, including Tey's boy, Pentaweret.  Poor Pentaweret was slowly strangled. Then they wrapped his mummy in an "impure" goat skin. Said the Medical Journal, which also examined Pentawaret's remains, "He was badly treated for a mummy."  And he may have been the lucky one. Every one else, including Tey herself,  were slowly simmered to death on a barbecue, cooked until the flesh was just falling off their bones.  And then their bones were ground up and their ashes were scattered to the four winds, condemning the immortal souls of these original resurectionists to wander the after-life without a body. Tough, I know, but if you are going to shoot at the Pharaoh, you had better not miss. And there better be no witnesses, and the cops better be in on it, and the army better be backing you, and the priests, and..., well, you just better not even try it. 
And it is a shame Tey did get caught. In his will, Ramses III donated 86,400 slaves to the estates of the god Amun's temples. His son and heir, Isis' boy Heqamatre, became Ramses IV, but he ruled for just six years. And after his demise Ramses followed Ramses with such rapidity that the High Priest of el-Kab who had helped Ramses III celebrate his Heb Sed, was still in office when Ramses IX died in 1111 B.C.E. By then the priest were openly the dominant power in Egypt, and the country was run for their benefit, sort of like the bankers run America today. Egypt slipped into a centuries long dark age.  
When the working day is done,
Oh, girls, They wanna have fun.
Ah, if only Tey had been more circumspect, and more successful, then the New Kingdom might have lasted a few hundred years longer, and women might have played a bigger part in history, and history might have been more fun. After all, the girl just wanted to have fun.
- 30 --

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