GREAT AFRICAN LAND OF ANTIQUITY
A BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF DYNASTIC KMT
By RUNOKO RASHIDI
DEDICATED TO DR. YOSEF A. A. BEN-JOCHANNANhttp://www.cwo.com/~lucumi/runoko.html
Ancient Africa produced many dazzling civilizations and although it was Africa's Upper Nile Valley--the highly regarded Ethiopia ("land of the burnt-faced people"), that gave birth to the world's oldest monarchy of which we are informed (Ta-Seti), it is in pharaonic Kmt (ancient Egypt), the greatest nation of antiquity and Ethiopia's most celebrated offspring, that the tremendous volume of historical inquiry has been made. When we examine the Kemetic civilization of Africa's Nile Valley, we examine perhaps the proudest and loftiest accomplishment in the whole of human annals.
It should be stated early on that from the very beginning of the predynastic Period to the first Kemetic Dynasty and through the mass of her Dynastic Period African people endowed with dark complexions, full lips, broad noses and tightly-curled hair were overwhelmingly dominant in both the general population and the royal families. The efforts of numerous scholars including Cheikh Anta Diop, Chancellor Williams, Theophile Obenga, Yosef ben-Jochannan, Asa Hilliard, Jacob Carruthers, Charles Finch and many others have demonstrated this beyond sane rebuttal. We need not review the evidence here. This has already been done thoroughly and conclusively and a comprehensive bibliography will be presented at the end of this series. This essay is intended merely as a brief synopsis of Kmt's royal dynasties.
By the latter portion of the fourth millennium B.C.E., the forces of the Black Land of Upper Kmt, probably during the reign of Narmer (the historical king often equated with the legendary Menes), had completed the titanic task of coupling Upper Kmt in the South (the borders of which extended from the vicinity of the first cataract to near the apex of the Kemetic Delta), with Lower Kmt in the North (essentially the Delta) into a single unified state. Although the history of the struggle for the unification of the Two Lands is lacking in many details, it is highly significant that Narmer, the first sovereign lord of Dynastic Kmt, came from the South. The orientation of Dynastic Kmt was always towards inner Africa. During Dynastic Kmt's times of deepest crisis renewal always came from the South.
Following Narmer, other important royal personages of the Early Dynastic Period include: Hor-Aha (perhaps Narmer's son), under whom major temples were erected and dedicated to the neters Ptah and Neit; Djer, who occupied the throne of Kmt for 47 years and celebrated far into Kemetic history as a superb physician; Mer-neit, who may have been Dynastic Kmt's first female monarch; Den, who conducted experiments with stone as a building material; and the last king of Dynasty II, Khaesekhemui, another Southerner who strove aggressively to irrevocably cement the foundations of a strong centralized Kemetic state.
Kmt's First Golden Age
After the reign of Khasekhemui, Kmt's Early Dynastic Period gave way to the historical era known as the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.E.). The Old Kingdom, comprising Dynasties III through VI, was perhaps Kmt's First Golden Age. The Old Kingdom is chiefly appreciated as the famous epoch of Kemetic pyramid building. These monuments, particularly the three built over a seventy year period, that dominate the Giza plateau, are arguably the world's most enduring expressions of architectural prowess and remain a source of awe, wonder and inspiration. The pyramid of Khufu itself (described as "the purest geometric form in human architecture") has the distinction of being the largest single building ever constructed by man.
From the Old Kingdom emerged such luminaries as: Netjerykhet Zoser, the first recognized royal personage to commission the construction of a large monument in hewn stone; Bedjmes, the noted African ship-builder; the phenomenal Imhotep, architect, administrator, astronomer, author, magician, physician and high-priest; Nae-maet Sneferu, the benevolent king during whose reign the classic pyramid form appeared; Khnum-Khufu, builder of the Great Pyramid (`Khufu on the Horizon'); Khafre, who built the Second Giza Pyramid (`Great is Khafre') and may have had the face of Hor-m-akhet (the `Great Sphinx') rendered in his own likeness; Menkaure, builder of the Third Giza Pyramid (`Divine is Menkaure'); Hesyre, `Chief of Dentists and Physicians'; Queen Khentkawes, ancestral figure for Dynasty V and `Mother of Two Kings of Upper and Lower Kmt'; Sahure, who launched the first recorded Kemetic mission to Punt (`God's Land') in Inner Africa; Ptah-hotep, author of profound precepts of morality and ethics; Unas, whose tomb chamber was the first to be inscribed with the religious literature now known as the Pyramid Texts; and Pepi II, another Southerner, whose 94 years on the throne is the longest documented reign in human annals.
The First Intermediate Period
By 2180 B.C.E., increasingly arid climatic conditions and accelerating political decentralization had resulted in a drastic decline in Kemetic fortunes. Incursions of Asiatics into the Delta and social revolution hastened the decline. Mer-en-Jehuti (Manetho) wrote that "The Seventh Dynasty consisted of seventy kings of Memphis, who reigned for 70 days." Kmt's mines and quarries grew silent, and great temples were no longer constructed. River transport along the Nile came to a virtual halt and poverty became widespread. This relatively obscure age of prevailing instability and popular discontent, known as Kmt's First Intermediate Period, lasted about 140 years and comprised Dynasties VII through X. It was during the First Intermediate Period that the Kemetic religious literature known as the Coffin Texts appeared.
During Dynasties IX and X (ca. 2160-2040 B.C.E.) domestic order was partially restored to much of Kmt through the authority of an African family based at Henen-nesut (Herakleopolis). Mer-en-Jehuti described the first king of Dynasty IX, who may have been a governor of the Twentieth Nome of Upper Kmt, as "more cruel than all his predecessors, and visited the whole of Egypt with dire disasters." Of the eighteen monarchs of Dynasties IX and X, the best known members include Kheti I, Kheti II, Neferkare, Kheti III and Merikare.
The Middle Kingdom: Kmt's Second Golden Age
Ancient Kmt's Second Golden Age, the Middle Kingdom, the significant period in Kemetic history encompassing Dynasties XI (ca. 2134-1991 B.C.E.) and XII (1991-1786 B.C.E.), was founded by the Mentuhoteps and Intefs--a distinguished and aggressive family of African nobles from Waset, the then unheralded city in Kmt's Scepter nome that the Greeks were to call Thebes. When Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II assumed the Upper Kemetic throne around 2060 B.C.E. his house was only able to claim hegemony over Southern Kmt. Under his determined and able leadership, however, this situation changed dramatically and quickly and early in his reign the Southerners began their most concerted, sustained and ultimately successful drive for the reunification of all Kmt. This was accomplished in 2040 B.C.E. along with the reestablishment of a strong central monarchy. Kmt, once again, was united under a single royal house, with Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II proclaimed as the nation's undisputed king.
In 1991 B.C.E. another Southerner, Sehetepibre Amenemhet I (1991-1971 B.C.E.), founded Kemetic Dynasty XII. Dynasty XII is regarded as the great national age of Kemetic literature. During his reign, for administrative purposes, the capital of Kmt was transferred from Waset north to It-Tawy (`Holder-of-the- Two Lands'). Of the eight monarchs of Dynasty XII, the first six had reigns of more than nineteen years each. Nubkaure Amenemhet II (1929-1895 B.C.E.) dedicated a temple in Sinai to the great goddess Het-Heru (Hathor) and sent an expedition to Punt. The land of Punt, here it should be stated (probably located geographically in modern-day Somalia), was considered by the people of Kmt as "God's land." Punt was a major producer of ebony, frankincense and myrrh and throughout Kmt's dynastic period no region was held in greater esteem than the land of Punt.
Khakaure Senusret III (1878-1843 B.C.E.) was a formidable militarist acclaimed as conqueror of much of Africa, Asia and Europe. Nymare Amenemhet III (1843-1797 B.C.E.) was a tremendous builder. He raised two great pyramids and commissioned the construction of the monument that came to be called the `Egyptian Labyrinth.' The Labyrinth must have been one of the largest buildings in antiquity and contained three thousand individual rooms--fifteen hundred below the ground and fifteen hundred above the ground.
The Age of National Humiliation: Kmt's Second Intermediate Period
Following Dynasty XII Kmt experienced her Second Intermediate Period. It has even been suggested that the Dynasty XIII Kemetic monarchs were actually elected as rulers for indefinite periods of time. Dynasty XIII was based in the South at Waset. Even more obscure than Dynasty XIII, Kemetic Dynasty XIV was based at Ineb-hedj (Memphis). Mer-en-Jehuti provides a combined total of 136 monarchs for both dynasties. The end of Dynasty XIV coincided with the general collapse of Kmt's central government. A disorganized Kmt was obviously not prepared for its national defense and unfortunately the Second Intermediate Period occurred at a time of serious political upheavals and human migrations in Asia and Europe. Capitalizing on Kmt's internal disarray were the Hyksos--the `Rulers of Foreign Lands', who proceeded to occupy Kmt in force.
The Hyksos occupied Kmt for more than a century and constituted Dynasties XV and XVI. These are foreign dynasties. During Dynasty XVII they remained the dominant force in Northern Kmt, while in Southern Kmt the Africans were intensifying their national liberation struggle against the Hyksos. Among the principle leaders of this struggle were Seqenenre Tao I, Queen Tetisheri, Seqenenre Tao II, Queen Ahhotep and Wadjkheperri Kamose. Generally speaking, and in this period in particular, it should be stressed that the women of the royal Kemetic families exercised considerable influence. They occupied positions of great authority and were extremely active in Kmt's national liberation struggle.
Kmt's Third Golden Age: The New Kingdom
Under the inspired leadership of Ahmose I and his wife and queen, Ahmose-Nefertari (whose veneration continued for more than six hundred years after her death), the Africans finally marshalled the strength to eject the Hyksos. King Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertari are hence recognized as the founders of Dynasty XVIII--the beginning of Kmt's Third Golden Age. Usually referred to as the New Kingdom and sometimes designated as the "Age of Empire" this epoch comprised Dynasties XVIII through XX and lasted from about 1750 B.C.E. to 1080 B.C.E.
Based at Waset it was during Dynasty XVIII that Kmt, out of a desire to guarantee its national security, established itself as a militant world power with the status of a large empire. Dynasty XVIII probably represents the absolute apogee of Kemetic might and influence both domestically and internationally. There were major expeditions to the land of Punt and important relations were maintained with Minoan Crete, Bronze Age Cyprus and Myceanean Greece. Much of Southwest Asia was subjugated during this time and reduced to vassalage.
In addition to Ahmose I and Ahmose-Nefertari Dynasty XVIII was the age of Makare Hatshepsut, the determined and capable female sovereign who sent an expedition to Punt; Senenmut, `Overseer of Works' during the reign of Makare Hatshepsut and the architect of Hatshepsut's splendid mortuary temple at Waset; Menkheperre Thutmose III, the redoubtable warrior-king who personally directed seventeen military campaigns and extended the Kemetic empire from the Upper Nile to the Upper Euphrates; Menkheprure Thutmose IV, who excavated Hor-m-akhet (the `Great Sphinx'); Nebmare Amenhotep III (`The Magnificent'), who reigned for thirty-eight years at the peak of Dynasty XVIII; Queen Tiye, `Great Royal Wife' of Amenhotep III; Amenhotep (son of Hapu)--scribe, government official and architect during the reign of Nebmare Amenhotep III; Akhenaten, who orchestrated one of the world's most dramatic religious reformations and during whose reign the Kemetic empire was allowed to wither and decay; and Nebkheprure Tutankhamen ("King Tut"), the famous "boy-king," who held the throne for only nine years, but the contents of whose tomb the world continues to marvel at.
Kemetic Dynasty XIX was founded by Menpehtyre Ramses I, who reigned only briefly. Ramses I was succeeded on the throne by his son, Menmare Seti I, under whom efforts were made to revive the Empire. Clearly though the single most towering figure of Kemetic Dynasty XIX was Usermare Ramses II--commonly known as "Ramses the Great." The sixty-seven year reign of Ramses II was for Kmt an era of general prosperity, stable government and exceptional construction projects. The dominance of Amen was restored and his priests firmly reinstated. Ramses II was actually deified in his own lifetime and it was largely through the unrelenting projection of his own personality that both Dynasties XIX and XX are often simply referred to today as the "Ramesside Dynasties."
Following Ramses II the stature of Kmt, once again, began to deteriorate. Baenre Merneptah, the thirteenth son and eventual successor of Ramses II, was forced to repel a major foray into Kmt by a violent confederation of Sea Peoples--the perpetrators of rampant devastation in the eastern Mediterranean and northern Africa during the latter portion of the second millennium B.C.E.
During Dynasty XX, Usermare-Meryamen Ramses III led Kmt's defense against three desperate invasions of Libyan tribesmen and nomadic Sea Peoples. Shortly thereafter inflationary Kmt experienced prolonged labor troubles among government workers and an inflationary rise in wheat prices. During the middle of Dynasty XX occurred a decline in the value of both copper and bronze accompanied by a gradual weakening of central authority. Kemetic royal tombs were apparently robbed with impunity by high officials and the country may have experienced a severe famine. It is probably no coincidence that it was in Dynasty XX that the craft of mummification reached its zenith.
Kmt's Fourth Golden Age: The Renaissance Period
It was only with the rise and enthronement of the Kushite rulers of Dynasty XXV that a powerful movement of cultural revival and economic resurgence in Kmt was sparked. Dynasty XXV, Kmt's Fourth Golden Age, was based at Napata, near the fourth cataract. The entire line of Dynasty XXV kings were men of great piety, confident in the belief that they were the true seat of Kemetic sovereignty. About 750 B.C.E. the Kushite king Kashta made a pilgrimage to the Amen Temples at Waset where he was hailed `King of Upper and Lower Kmt.' A daughter of Kashta, Amenirdas I, was installed in Waset with the title of `Divine Wife of the God Amen.' In 730 B.C.E. Kashta's son and successor Piye (Piankhi) conquered Upper and Lower Kmt but chose to govern from Kush (Upper Nubia between the third and sixth cataracts). Finally, about 715 B.C.E., Shabaka, Piye's brother and successor, completed the total reunification of Kmt, ruled from Waset and became the head of a stupendous Kushite empire that extended from the Mediterranean Sea southwards to the confluence of the Blue and White Niles deep in Inner Africa. It was during this same period that the ancient creation story currently known as the Memphite Theology was recopied for eternity on a massive granite slab. During the reign of Shabaka's successor, Shabataka, the demotic script was introduced.
Probably the single most outstanding sovereign of Dynasty XXV was Taharqa (690-664 B.C.E.). Taharqa is one of African's great leaders. As a prince he is believed to have led an African expedition to Spain. As King, he commanded military campaigns in Western Asia to save his Jewish allies from destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. As "A loving son, Tarharqo at one point sent for his mother, resident in far-off Napata, to visit him, so that she could enjoy the sight of her son on the throne of Upper and Lower Egypt."
It is regrettable that so much of the focus of the Dynasty XXV monarchs had be to directed towards fending off a menacing nation of foreign aggressors--the Assyrians. The Assyrians equipped their armies with iron weapons and unlike many nations of antiquity placed no heavy dependence on foreign mercenaries whose loyalties might shift at any time. The bulk of the Assyrian armies consisted of archers, heavily armed spearmen, shield bearers, horsemen and heavy chariotry. The Assyrian armies were well trained and utilized battering rams and formidable siege machines. For several decades the Africans held their own against the Assyrians but in in 671 B.C.E. Assyrian legions invaded Kmt and ransacked Ineb-hedj (Memphis). In 633 B.C.E. Assyrian armies again invaded Kmt and this time pillaged Waset, massacred its inhabitants and emptied the temples of their treasures.
Concerning Egypt I will now speak at length, because nowhere are there so many marvelous things, nor in the whole world beside are there to be seen so many things of unspeakable greatness."
--Herodotus, The Histories
The Twilight Years: The Decline and Collapse of Dynastic Kmt
In 658 B.C.E. Psametik I, initially an Assyrian vassal, established Kemetic Dynasty XXXVI. With the intervention of Greek mercenaries Psametik eventually managed to successfully throw off the yoke of Assyrian domination. The kings of Dynasty XXVI, which was based at Sau (Sais) in the western Delta, tried to restore Kmt's former grandeur by promoting commercial expansion. Large numbers of foreigners, particularly Greeks, settled in Kmt during Dynasty XXVI. Dynasty XXVI was also a period in which numerous foreign scholars, including Thales (ca. 636-546 B.C.E.) and Pythagoras (ca. 582-507 B.C.E.), studied in Kmt. Additionally, it was during Dynasty XXVI that the prophet Jeremiah (ca. 628-586 B.C.E.) sojourned in Kmt, a bronze statue carrying the name of King Sendji of Dynasty II was made and the near-legendary Imhotep of Dynastic III was deified as a God of science and medicine.
Dynasty XXVI was an era of martial conflicts in which Kmt was largely inadequate. During the long reign of Psametik I the entire military garrison at Abu (Elephantine) deserted to the king of Kush, who is said to have provided them with land grants and wives in the southern portion of the kingdom. In 605 B.C.E. the Kemetic military was soundly defeated by the Babylonians at the battle of Carchemish. The Babylonians never successfully occupied Kmt but they remained a constant threat to the security of the country until the Babylonians themselves were eclipsed by the rising strength of Persia.
In 525 B.C.E. the Persians, under Cambyses II, invaded, conquered and incorporated Kmt into the Persian Empire. It was during Dynasty XXVII, the time of the Persian occupation of Kmt, that Hecataeus of Miletus (ca. 510 B.C.E.) and the great historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus (ca. 450 B.C.E.) visited Kmt. The short-lived Dynasty XXVIII (404-399 B.C.E.), which consisted of only one king, Amyrtaeus, was based at Sau (Sais). It was in Dynasty XXIX that Plato (428-347 B.C.E.) studied in Kmt, while Democritus (ca. 460-370 B.C.E.) pursued his education in Kmt during Dynasty XXX.
It was in 343 B.C.E. that King Nectanebo II was defeated by the Persians under Ataxerxes III. After a brief period of Persian domination, sometimes referred to as Dynasty XXXI, in 332 B.C.E. came the invasion and occupation of Kmt under of Alexander of Macedon (356-323 B.C.E.) and the subsequent Ptolemaic Dynasty (305-30 B.C.E.). As for Alexander himself, "records say that he wanted to be buried in Egypt's Siwa Oasis, near Libya, but finally was encased in a gold coffin in Alexandria, the Mediterranean city he founded."
One of the most brilliant and influential intellectuals of the early period of Ptolemaic rule in Kmt was the celebrated African scholar and priest--Mer-en-Jehuti--more widely known as Manetho of Sebennytos (ca. 275 B.C.E.). The Lower Kemetic city of Sebennytos had been the nation's capital during Dynasty XXX. Manetho, whose authority has been acknowledged several times in this essay, is credited with having written in the Greek language The Sacred Book, An Epitome of Physical Doctrines and Aegyptica (The History of Egypt). It was in the latter work--still the primary fabric connecting Kemetic history--that the famed African scholar organized the successive reigns of the monarchs of Kmt into our present dynastic structure.
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