Here to return to
BACK THROUGH NUBIA.
THERE are fourteen temples between Abou Simbel and Philæ; to say nothing of grottoes, tombs, and other ruins. As a rule, people begin to get tired of temples about this time, and vote them too plentiful. Meek travellers go through them as a duty; but the greater number rebel. Our Happy Couple, I grieve to say, went over to the majority. Dead to shame, they openly proclaimed themselves bored. They even skipped several temples.
For myself, I was never bored by them. Though they had been twice as many, I should not have wished them fewer. Miss Martineau tells how, in this part of the river, she was scarcely satisfied to sit down to breakfast without having first explored a temple; but I could have breakfasted, dined, supped on temples. My appetite for them was insatiable, and grew with what it fed upon. I went over them all. I took notes of them all. I sketched them every one.
I may as well say at once that I shall reproduce but few of those notes, and only some of those sketches, in the present volume. If, surrounded by their local associations, these ruins fail to interest many who travel far to see them, it is not to be supposed that they would interest readers at home. Here and there, perhaps, might be one who would care to pore with me over every broken sculpture; to spell out every half-legible cartouche; to trace through Greek and Roman influences (which are nowhere more conspicuous than in these Nubian buildings) the slow deterioration of the Egyptian style. But the world for the most part reserves itself, and rightly, for the great epochs and the great names of the past; and because it has not yet had too much of Karnak, of Abou Simbel, of the pyramids, it sets slight store by those minor monuments which record the periods of foreign rule and the decline of native art.
For these reasons, therefore, I propose to dismiss very briefly many places upon which I bestowed hours of delightful labour.
We left Abou Simbel just as the moon was rising on the evening of the 18th of February, and dropped down with the current for three or four miles before mooring for the night. At six next morning the men began rowing; and at half-past eight, the heads of the Colossi were still looking placidly after us across a ridge of intervening hills. They were then more than five miles distant in a direct line; but every feature was still distinct in the early daylight. One went up again and again, as long as they remained in sight, and bade good-bye to them at last with that same heartache which comes of a farewell view of the Alps.
When I say that we were seventeen days getting from Abou Simbel to Philæ, and that we had the wind against us from sunrise till sunset almost every day, it will be seen that our progress was of the slowest. To those who were tired of Temples, and to the crew who were running short of bread, these long days of lying up under the bank, or of rocking to and fro in the middle of the river, were dreary enough.
Slowly but surely, however, the hard-won miles go by. Sometimes the barren desert hems us in to right and left, with never a blade of green between the rock and the river. Sometimes, as at Tosko,1 we come upon an open tract, where there are palms, and castor-berry plantations, and corn-fields alive with quail. The idle man goes ashore at Tosko with his gun, while the little lady and the writer climb a solitary rock about 200 feet above the river. The bank shelves here, and a crescent-like wave of inundation, about three miles in length, overflows it every season. From this height one sees exactly how far the wave goes, and how it must make a little bay when it is there. Now it is a bay of barley, full to the brim, and rippling with the breeze. Beyond the green comes the desert; the one defined against the other as sharply as water against land. The desert looks wonderfully old beside the young green of the corn, and the Nile flows wide among sand-banks, like a tidal river near the sea. The village, squared off in parallelograms, like a cattle-market, lies mapped out below. A field-glass shows that the houses are simply cloistered courtyards roofed with palm-thatch; the sheik’s house being larger than the rest, with the usual open space and spreading sycamore in front. There are women moving to and fro in the courtyards, and husbandmen in the castor-berry patches. A funeral with a train of wailers goes out presently towards the burial-ground on the edge of the desert. The idle man, a slight figure with a veil twisted round his hat, wades, half-hidden, through the barley, signalling his whereabouts every now and then by a puff of white smoke. A cargo-boat, stripped and shorn, comes floating down the river, making no visible progress. A native felucca, carrying one tattered brown sail, goes swiftly up with the wind at a pace that will bring her to Abou Simbel before nightfall. Already she is past the village; and those black specks yonder, which we had never dreamed were crocodiles, have slipped off into the water at her approach. And now she is far in the distance – that glowing, illimitable distance – traversed by long silvery reaches of river, and ending in a vast flat, so blue and aerial that, but for some three or four notches of purple peaks on the horizon, one could scarcely discern the point at which land and sky melt into each other.
Ibrim comes next; then Derr; then Wady Sabooah. At Ibrim, as at Derr, there are “fair” families, whose hideous light hair and blue eyes (grafted on brown-black skins) date back to Bosnian forefathers of 360 years ago. These people give themselves airs, and are the haute noblesse of the place. The men are lazy and quarrelsome. The women trail longer robes, wear more beads and rings, and are altogether more unattractive and castor-oily than any we have seen elsewhere. They keep slaves, too. We saw these unfortunates trotting at the heels of their mistresses, like dogs. Knowing slavery to be officially illegal in the dominions of the Khedive, the M. B.’s applied to a dealer, who offered them an Abyssinian girl for ten pounds. This useful article – warranted a bargain – was to sweep, wash, milk, and churn; but was not equal to cooking. The M.B.’s, it is needless to add, having verified the facts, retired from the transaction.
At Derr we pay a farewell visit to the Temple; and at Amada, arriving towards close of day, see the great view for the last time in the glory of sunset.
And now, though the north wind blows persistently, it gets hotter every day. The crocodiles like it, and come out to bask in the sunshine. Called up one morning in the middle of breakfast we see two – a little one and a big one – on a sand-bank near by. The men rest upon their oars. The boat goes with the stream. No one speaks; no one moves. Breathlessly and in dead silence, we drift on till we are close beside them. The big one is rough and black, like the trunk of a London elm, and measures full eighteen feet in length. The little one is pale and greenish, and glistens like glass. All at once, the old one starts, doubles itself up for a spring, and disappears with a tremendous splash. But the little one, apparently unconscious of danger, lifts its tortoise-like head, and eyes us sidewise. Presently some one whispers; and that whisper breaks the spell. Our little crocodile flings up its tail, plunges down the bank, and is gone in a moment.
The crew could not understand how the Idle Man, after lying in wait for crocodiles at Abou Simbel, should let this rare chance pass without a shot. But we had heard since then of so much indiscriminate slaughter at the second cataract, that he was resolved to bear no part in the extermination of those old historic reptiles. That a sportsman should wish for a single trophy is not unreasonable; but that scores of crack shots should go up every winter, killing and wounding these wretched brutes at an average rate of from twelve to eighteen per gun, is mere butchery, and cannot be too strongly reprehended. Year by year, the creatures become shyer and fewer; and the day is probably not far distant when a crocodile will be as rarely seen below Semneh as it is now rarely seen below Assûan.
The thermometer stands at 85° in the saloon of the Philæ, when we come one afternoon to Wady Sabooah, where there is a solitary temple drowned in sand. It was approached once by an avenue of sphinxes and standing colossi, now shattered and buried. The roof of the pronaos, if ever it was roofed, is gone. The inner halls and the sanctuary – all excavated in the rock – are choked and impassable. Only the propylon stands clear of sand; and that, massive as it is, looks as if one touch of a battering-ram would bring it to the ground. Every huge stone in it is loose. Every block in the cornice seems tottering in its place. In all this, we fancy we recognise the work of our Abou Simbel earthquake.2
At Wady Sabooah we see a fat native. The fact claims record, because it is so uncommon. A stalwart middle-aged man, dressed in a tattered kilt and carrying a palm-staff in his hand, he stands before us the living double of the famous wooden statue at Boulak. He is followed by his two wives and three or four children, all bent upon trade. The women have trinkets, the boys a live chameleon and a small stuffed crocodile for sale. While the painter is bargaining for the crocodile and L.----- for a nose-ring, the writer makes acquaintance with a pair of self-important hoopoes, who live in the pylon, and evidently regard it as a big nest of their own building. They sit observing me curiously while I sketch, nodding their crested polls and chattering disparagingly, like a couple of critics. By and by comes a small black bird with a white breast, and sings deliciously. It is like no little bird that I have ever seen before; but the song that it pours so lavishly from its tiny throat is as sweet and brilliant as a canary’s.
Powerless against the wind, the dahabeeyah lies idle day after day in the sun. Sometimes, when we chance to be near a village, the natives squat on the bank, and stare at us for hours together. The moment any one appears on deck, they burst into a chorus of “Bakshîsh!” There is but one way to get rid of them, and that is to sketch them. The effect is instantaneous. With a good-sized block and a pencil, a whole village may be put to flight at a moment’s notice. If on the other hand one wishes for a model, the difficulty is insuperable. The painter tried in vain to get some of the women and girls (not a few of whom were really pretty) to sit for their portraits. I well remember one haughty beauty, shaped and draped like a Juno, who stood on the bank one morning, scornfully watching all that was done on deck. She carried a flat basket back-handed; and her arms were covered with bracelets, and her fingers with rings. Her little girl, in a Madame Nubia fringe, clung to her skirts, half wondering, half frightened. The painter sent out an ambassador plenipotentiary to offer anything from sixpence to half-a-sovereign, if she would only stand like that for half an hour. The manner of her refusal was grand. She drew her shawl over her face, took her child’s hand, and stalked away like an offended goddess. The writer, meanwhile, hidden behind a curtain, had snatched a tiny sketch from the cabin-window.
On the western bank, somewhere between Wady Sabooah and Maharrakeh, in a spot quite bare of vegetation, stand the ruins of a fortified town which is neither mentioned by Murray nor entered in the maps. It is built high on a base of reddish rock, and commands the river and the desert. The painter and writer explored it one afternoon, in the course of a long ramble. Climbing first a steep slope strewn with masonry, we came to the remains of a stone gateway. Finding this impassable, we made our way through a breach in the battlemented wall, and thence up a narrow road down which had been poured a cataract of débris. Skirting a ruined postern at the top of this road, we found ourselves in a close labyrinth of vaulted arcades built of crude brick and lit at short intervals by openings in the roof. These strange streets – for they were streets – were lined on either side by small dwellings built of crude brick on stone foundations. We went into some of the houses – mere ruined courts and roofless chambers, in which were no indications of hearths or staircases. In one lay a fragment of stone column about 14 inches in diameter. The air in these ancient streets was foul and stagnant, and the ground was everywhere heaped with fragments of black, red, and yellowish pottery, like the shards of Elephantine and Philæ. A more desolate place in a more desolate situation I never saw. It looked as if it had been besieged, sacked, and abandoned, a thousand years ago; which is probably under the mark, for the character of the pottery would seem to point to the period of Roman occupation. Noting how the brick superstructures were reared on apparently earlier masonry, we concluded that the beginnings of this place were probably Egyptian, and the later work Roman. The marvel was that any town should have been built in so barren a spot, there being not so much as an inch-wide border of lentils for a mile or more between the river and the desert.
Having traversed the place from end to end, we came out through another breach on the westward side, and, thinking to find a sketchable point of view inland, struck down towards the plain. In order to reach this, one first must skirt a deep ravine which divides the rock of the citadel from the desert. Following the brink of this ravine to the point at which it falls into the level, we found to our great surprise that we were treading the banks of an extinct river.
It was full of sand now; but beyond all question it had once been full of water. It came, evidently, from the mountains over towards the north-west. We could trace its windings for a long way across the plain, thence through the ravine, and on southwards in a line parallel with the Nile. Here, beneath our feet, were the water-worn rocks through which it had fretted its way; and yonder, half-buried in sand, were the boulders it had rounded and polished, and borne along in its course. I doubt, however, if when it was a river of water, this stream was half as beautiful as now, when it is a river of sand. It was turbid then, no doubt, and charged with sediment. Now it is more golden than Pactolus, and covered with ripples more playful and undulating than were ever modelled by Canaletti’s pencil.
Supposing yonder town to have been founded in the days when the river was a river, and the plain fertile and well watered, the mystery of its position is explained. It was protected in front by the Nile, and in the rear by the ravine and the river. But how long ago was this? Here apparently was an independent stream, taking its rise among the Libyan mountains. It dated back, consequently, to a time when these barren hills collected and distributed water – that is to say, to a time when it used to rain in Nubia. And that time must have been before the rocky barrier broke down at Silsilis, in the old days when the land of Kush flowed with milk and honey.3
It would rain even now in Nubia, if it could. That same evening when the sun was setting, we saw a fan-like drift of dappled cloud miles high above our heads, melting, as it seemed, in fringes of iridescent vapour. We could distinctly see those fringes forming, wavering, and evaporating; unable to descend as rain, because dispersed at a high altitude by radiated heat from the desert. This, with one exception, was the only occasion on which I saw clouds in Nubia.
Coming back, we met a solitary native, with a string of beads in his hand and a knife up his sleeve. He followed us for a long way, volunteering a but half-intelligible story about some unknown Birbeh4 in the desert. We asked where it was, and he pointed up the course of our unknown river.
“You have seen it?” said the painter.
“Marrat ketîr” (many times).
“How far is it?”
“One day’s march in the hagar” (desert).
“And have no Ingleezeh ever been to look for it?”
He shook his head at first, not understanding the question; then looked grave and held up one finger.
Our stock of Arabic was so small, and his so interlarded with Kensee, that we had great difficulty in making out what he said next. We gathered, however, that some Howadji, travelling alone and on foot, had once gone in search of this Birbeh, and never come back. Was he lost? Was he killed? – Who could say?
“It was a long time ago,” said the man with the beads. “It was a long time ago, and he took no guide with him.”
We would have given much to trace the river to its source, and search for this unknown temple in the desert. But it is one of the misfortunes of this kind of travelling that one cannot easily turn aside from the beaten track. The hot season is approaching; the river is running low; the daily cost of the dahabeeyah is exorbitant; and in Nubia, where little or nothing can be bought in the way of food, the dilatory traveller risks starvation. It was something, however, to have seen with one’s own eyes that the Nile, instead of flowing for a distance of 1200 miles unfed by any affluent, had here received the waters of a tributary.5
To those who have a south breeze behind them, the temples must now follow in quick succession. We, however, achieved them by degrees, and rejoiced when our helpless dahabeeyah lay within rowing reach of anything worth seeing. Thus we pull down one day to Maharrakeh – in itself a dull ruin; but picturesquely desolate. Seen as one comes up the bank on landing, two parallel rows of columns stand boldly up against the sky, supporting a ruined entablature. In the foreground, a few stunted Dôm-palms starve in an arid soil. The barren desert closes in the distance.
We are beset here by an insolent crowd of savage-looking men and boys, and impudent girls with long frizzy hair and Nubian fringes, who pester us with beads and pebbles; dance, shout, slap their legs and clap their hands in our faces; and pelt us when we go away. One ragged warrior brandishes an antique brass-mounted firelock full six feet long in the barrel, and some of the others carry slender spears.
The temple – a late Roman structure – would seem to have been wrecked by earthquake before it was completed. The masonry is all in the rough – pillars as they came from the quarry; capitals blocked out, waiting for the carver. These unfinished ruins – of which every stone looks new, as if the work was still in progress – affect one’s imagination strangely. On a fallen wall south of the portico, the idle man detected some remains of a Greek inscription;6 but for hieroglyphic characters, or cartouches by which to date the building, we looked in vain.7
Dakkeh comes next in order; then Gerf Hossayn, Dendoor and Kalabsheh. Arriving at Dakkeh soon after sunrise, we find the whole population – screaming, pushing, chattering, laden with eggs, pigeons, and gourds for sale – drawn up to receive us. There is a large sand island in the way here; so we moor about a mile above the temple.
We first saw the twin pylons of Dakkeh some weeks ago from the deck of the Philæ, and we then likened them to the majestic towers of Edfu. Approaching them now by land, we are surprised to find them so small. It is a brillant, hot morning; and our way lies by the river, between the lentil slope and the castor-berry patches. There are flocks of pigeons flying low overhead; barking dogs and crowing cocks in the village close by; and all over the path, hundred of beetles – real, live scarabs, black as coal and busy as ants – rolling their clay pellets up from the water’s edge to the desert. If we were to examine a score of so of these pellets, we should here and there find one that contained no eggs; for it is a curious fact that the scarab-beetle makes and rolls her pellets whether she has an egg to deposit or not. The female beetle, though assisted by the male, is said to do the heavier share of the pellet-rolling; and if evening comes on before her pellet is safely stowed away, she will sleep holding it with her feet all night, and resume her labour in the morning.8
The temple here – begun by an Ethiopian king named Arkaman (Ergamenes), about whom Diodorus has a long story to tell, and carried on by the Ptolemies and Cæsars – stands in a desolate open space to the north of the village, and is approached by an avenue, the walls of which are constructed with blocks from some other earlier building. The whole of this avenue and all the waste ground for three or four hundred yards round about the Temple, is not merely strewn but piled with fragments of pottery, pebbles, and large smooth stones of porphyry, alabaster, basalt, and a kind of marble like verde antico. These stones are puzzling. They look as if they might be fragments of statues that had been rolled and polished by ages of friction in the bed of a torrent. Among the potsherds we find some inscribed fragments, like those of Elephantine.9 Of the temple I will only say that, as masonry, it is better put together than any work of the eighteenth or nineteenth dynasties with which I am acquainted. The sculptures, however, are atrocious. Such misshapen hieroglyphs; such dumpy, smirking goddesses; such clownish kings in such preposterous head-dresses, we have never seen till now. The whole thing, in short, as regards scupturesque style, is the Ptolemaic out-Ptolemied.
Rowing round presently to Kobban – the river running wide, with the sand island between – we land under the walls of a huge crude-brick structure, black with age, which at first sight looks quite shapeless; but which proves to be an ancient Egyptian fortress, buttressed, towered, loopholed, finished at the angles with the invariable moulded torus, and surrounded by a deep dry moat, which is probably yet filled each summer by the inundation.
Now of all rare things in the valley of the Nile, a purely secular ruin is the rarest; and this, with the exception of some foundations of dwellings here and there, is the first we have seen. It is probably very, very old; as old as the days of Thothmes III, whose name is found on some scattered blocks about a quarter of a mile away, and who built two similar fortresses at Semneh, thirty-five miles above Wady Halfeh. It may even be a thousand years older still, and date from the time of Amenemhat III, whose name is also found on a stela near Kobban.10 For here was once an ancient city, when Pselcis (now Dakkeh) was but a new suburb on the opposite bank. The name of this ancient city is lost, but it is by some supposed to be identical with the Metacompso of Ptolemy.11 As the suburb grew, the mother town declined, and in time, the suburb became the city, and the city became the suburb. The scattered blocks aforesaid, together with the remains of a small Temple, yet mark the position of the elder city.
The walls of this most curious and interesting fortress have probably lost much of their original height. They are in some parts 30 feet thick, and nowhere less than 20. Vertical on the inside, they are built at a buttress-slope outside, with additional shallow buttresses at regular distances. These last, as they can scarcely add to the enormous strength of the original wall, were probably designed for effect. There are two entrances to the fortress; one in the centre of the north wall, and one in the south. We enter the enclosure by the last named, and find ourselves in the midst of an immense parallelogram measuring about 450 feet from east to west, and perhaps 300 feet from north to south.
All within these bounds is a wilderness of ruin. The space looks large enough for a city, and contains what might be the débris of a dozen cities. We climb huge mounds of rubbish; skirt cataracts of broken pottery; and stand on the brink of excavated pits, honeycombed forty feet below with brick foundations. Over these mounds and at the bottom of these pits, swarm men, women, and children, filling and carrying away basket-loads of rubble. The dust rises in clouds. The noise, the heat, the confusion, are indescribable. One pauses, bewildered, seeking in vain to discover in this mighty maze any indication of a plan. It is only by an effort that one gradually realises how the place is but a vast shell, and how all these mounds and pits mark the site of what was once a huge edifice rising tower above tower to a central keep, such as we see represented in the battle-subjects of Abou Simbel and Thebes.
That towered edifice and central keep – quarried, broken up, carried away piecemeal, reduced to powder, and spread over the land as manure – has now disappeared almost to its foundations. Only the well in the middle of the enclosure, and the great wall of circuit, remain. That wall is doomed, and will by and by share the fate of the rest. The well, which must have been very deep, is choked with rubbish to the brim. Meanwhile, in order to realise what the place in its present condition is like, one need but imagine how the Tower of London would look if the whole of the inner buildings – White Tower, Chapel, Armoury, Governor’s Quarters and all – were levelled in shapeless ruin, and only the outer walls and moat were left.
Built up against the inner side of the wall of circuit are the remains of a series of massive towers, the tops of which, as they are, strangely enough, shorter than the external structure, can never have communicated with the battlements, unless by ladders. The finest of these towers, together with a magnificent fragment of wall, faces the eastern desert.
Going out by the north entrance, we find the sides of the gateway, and even the steps leading down into the moat, in perfect preservation; while at the base of the great wall, on the outer side facing the river, there yet remains a channel or conduit about two feet square, built and roofed with stone, which in Murray is described as a water-gate.
The sun is high, the heat is overwhelming, the felucca waits; and we turn reluctantly away, knowing that between here and Cairo we shall see no more curious relic of the far-off past than this dismantled stronghold. It is a mere mountain of unburnt brick; altogether unlovely; admirable only for the gigantic strength of its proportions; pathetic only in the abjectness of its ruin. Yet it brings the lost ages home to one’s imagination in a way that no temple could ever bring them. It dispels for a moment the historic glamour of the sculptures, and compels us to remember those nameless and forgotten millions, of whom their rulers fashioned soldiers in time of war and builders in time of peace.
Our adventures by the way are few and far between; and we now rarely meet a dahabeeyah. Birds are more plentiful than when we were in this part of the river a few weeks ago. We see immense flights of black and white cranes congregated at night on the sandbanks; and any number of quail may be had for the shooting. It is matter for rejoicing when the Idle Man goes out with his gun and brings home a full bag; for our last sheep was killed before we started for Wady Halfeh, and our last poultry ceased cackling at Abou Simbel.
One morning early, we see a bride taken across the river in a big boat full of women and girls, who are clapping their hands and shrilling the tremulous zaghareet. The bride – a chocolate beauty with magnificent eyes – wears a gold brow-pendant and nose-ring, and has her hair newly plaited in hundreds of tails, finished off at the ends with mud pellets daubed with yellow ochre. She stands surrounded by her companions, proud of her finery, and pleased to be stared at by the Ingleezeh.
About this time, also, we see one night a wild sort of festival going on for some miles along both sides of the river. Watch-fires break out towards twilight, first on this bank, then on that; becoming brighter and more numerous as the darkness deepens. By and by, when we are going to bed, we hear sounds of drumming on the eastern bank, and see from afar a torchlight procession and dance. The effect of this dance of torches – for it is only the torches that are visible – is quite diabolic. The lights flit and leap as if they were alive; circling, clustering, dispersing, bobbing, poussetting, pursuing each other at a gallop, and whirling every now and then through the air, like rockets. Late as it is, we would fain put ashore and see this orgy more nearly; but Reïs Hassan shakes his head. The natives hereabout are said to be quarrelsome; and if, as it is probable, they are celebrating the festival of some local saint, we might be treated as intruders.
Coming at early morning to Gerf Hossayn, we make our way up to the temple, which is excavated in the face of a limestone cliff, a couple of hundred feet, perhaps, above the river. A steep path, glaring hot in the sun, leads to a terrace in the rock; the temple being approached through the ruins of a built-out portico and an avenue of battered colossi. It is a gloomy place within – an inferior edition, so to say, of the great temple of Abou Simbel; and of the same date. It consists of a first hall supported by Osiride pillars, a second and smaller hall with square columns; a smoke-blackened sanctuary; and two side-chambers. The Osiride colossi, which stand 20 feet high without the entablature over their heads or the pedestal under their feet, are thick-set, bow-legged, and mis-shapen. Their faces would seem to have been painted black originally; while those of the avenue outside have distinctly Ethiopian features. One seems to detect here, as at Derr and Wady Sabooah, the work of provincial sculptors; just as at Abou Simbel one recognises the master-style of the artists of the Theban Ramesseum.
The side-chambers at Gerf Hossayn are infested with bats. These bats are the great sight of the place, and have their appointed showman. We find him waiting for us with an end of tarred rope, which he flings, blazing, into the pitch-dark doorway. For a moment we see the whole ceiling hung, as it were, with a close fringe of white, filmy-looking pendants. But it is only for a moment. The next instant the creatures are all in motion, dashing out madly in our faces like driven snowflakes. We picked up a dead one afterwards, when the rush was over, and examined it by the outer daylight – a lovely little creature, white and downy, with fine transparent wings, and little pink feet, and the prettiest mousey mouth imaginable.
Bordered with dwarf palms, acacias, and henna-bushes, the cliffs between Gerf Hossayn and Dendoor stand out in detached masses so like ruins that sometimes we can hardly believe they are rocks. At Dendoor, when the sun is setting and a delicious gloom is stealing up the valley, we visit a tiny Temple on the western bank. It stands out above the river surrounded by a wall of enclosure, and consists of a single pylon, a portico, two little chambers, and a sanctuary. The whole thing is like an exquisite toy, so covered with sculptures, so smooth, so new-looking, so admirably built. Seeing them half by sunset, half by dusk, it matters not that these delicately-wrought bas-reliefs are of the Decadence school.12 The rosy half-light of an Egyptian after-glow covers a multitude of sins, and steeps the whole in an atmosphere of romance.
Wondering what has happened to the climate, we wake shivering next morning an hour or so before break of day, and, for the first time in several weeks, taste the old early chill upon the air. When the sun rises, we find ourselves at Kalabsheh, having passed the limit of the Tropic during the night. Henceforth, no matter how great the heat may be by day, this chill invariably comes with the dark hour before dawn.
The usual yelling crowd, with the usual beads, baskets, eggs, and pigeons, for sale, greets us on the shore at Kalabsheh. One of the men has a fine old two-handed sword in a shabby blue velvet sheath, for which he asks five napoleons. It looks as if it might have belonged to a crusader. Some of the women bring buffalo-cream in filthy-looking black skins slung round their waists like girdles. The cream is excellent; but the skins temper one’s enjoyment of the unaccustomed dainty.
There is a magnificent Temple here, and close by, excavated in the cliff, a rock-cut Speos, the local name of which is Bayt-el-Weli. The sculptures of this famous Speos have been more frequently described and engraved than almost any sculptures in Egypt. The procession of Ethiopian tribute-dealers, the assault of the Amorite city, the Triumph of Rameses, are familiar not only to every reader of Wilkinson, but to every visitor passing through the Egyptian Rooms of the British Museum. Notwithstanding the casts that have been taken from them, and the ill-treatment to which they have been subjected by natives and visitors, they are still beautiful. The colour of those in the roofless courtyard, though so perfect when Bonomi executed his admirable facsimiles, has now almost entirely peeled off; but in the portico and inner chambers it is yet brilliant. An emerald green Osiris, a crimson Anubis, and an Isis of the brightest chrome yellow, are astonishingly pure and forcible in quality. As for the flesh-tones of the Anubis, this was, I believe, the only instance I observed of a true crimson in Egyptian pigments.
Between the speos of Bayt-el-Welly and the neighbouring temple of Kalabsheh there lies about half-a-mile of hilly pathway and a gulf of 1400 years. Rameses ushers us into the presence of Augustus, and we pass, as it were, from an oratory in the great house of Pharaoh to the presence-chamber of the Cæsars.
But if the decorative work in the presence-chamber of the Cæsars was anything like the decorative work in the temple of Kalabsheh, then the taste thereof was of the vilest. Such a masquerade of deities; such striped and spotted and cross-barred robes; such outrageous head-dresses; such crude and violent colouring,13 we have never seen the like of. As for the goddesses, they are gaudier than the dancing damsels of Luxor; while the kings balance on their heads diadems compounded of horns, moons, birds, balls, beetles, lotus-blossoms, asps, vases, and feathers. The temple, however, is conceived on a grand scale. It is the Karnak of Nubia. But it is a Karnak that has evidently been visited by a shock of earthquake far more severe than that which shook the mighty pillars of the Hypostyle Hall and flung down the obelisk of Hatasu. From the river, it looks like a huge fortress; but seen from the threshold of the main gateway, it is a wilderness of ruin. Fallen blocks, pillars, capitals, entablatures, lie so extravagantly piled, that there is not one spot in all those halls and courtyards upon which it is possible to set one’s foot on the level of the original pavement. Here, again, the earthquake seems to have come before the work was completed. There are figures outlined on the walls, but never sculptured. Others have been begun, but never finished. You can see where the chisel stopped – you can even detect which was the last mark it made on the surface. One traces here, in fact, the four processes of wall decoration. In some places the space is squared off and ruled by the mechanic; in others, the subject is ready drawn within those spaces by the artist. Here the sculptor has carried it a stage farther; yonder the painter has begun to colour it.
interesting, however, than aught else at Kalabsheh is
the Greek inscription of Silco of Ethiopia.14 This
made famous by the commentaries of Niebuhr and Letronne – was
discovered by M.
Gau in A.D. 1818. It consists of 21 lines very neatly written in red
it dates from the sixth century of the Christian era. It commences
The historical value of this inscription is very great. It shows that in the sixth century, while the native inhabitants of this part of the Valley of the Nile yet adhered to the ancient Egyptian faith, the Ethiopians of the south were professedly Christian.
The descendants of the Blemmys are a fine race; tall, strong, and of a rich chocolate complexion. Strolling through the village at sunset, we see the entire population – old men sitting at their doors; young men lounging and smoking; children at play. The women, with glittering white teeth and liquid eyes, and a profusion of gold and silver ornaments on neck and brow, come out with their little brown babies astride on hip or shoulder, to stare as we go by. One sick old woman, lying outside her hut on a palm-wood couch, raises herself for a moment on her elbow – then sinks back with a weary sigh, and turns her face to the wall. The mud dwellings here are built in and out of a maze of massive stone foundations, the remains of buildings once magnificent. Some of these walls are built in concave courses; each course of stones, that is to say, being depressed in the centre, and raised at the angles; which mode of construction was adopted in order to offer less resistance when shaken by earthquake.18
We observe more foundations built thus, at Tafah, where we arrive next morning. As the masons’ work at Tafah is of late Roman date, it follows that earthquakes were yet frequent in Nubia at a period long subsequent to the great shock of B.C. 27, mentioned by Eusebius. Travellers are too ready to ascribe everything in the way of ruin to the fury of Cambyses and the pious rage of the early Christians. Nothing, however, is easier than to distinguish between the damage done to the monuments by the hand of man and the damage caused by subterraneous upheaval. Mutilation is the rule in the one case; displacement in the other. At Denderah, for example, the injury done is wholly wilful; at Abou Simbel, it is wholly accidental; at Karnak, it is both wilful and accidental. As for Kalabsheh, it is clear that no such tremendous havoc could have been effected by human means without the aid of powerful rams, fire, or gunpowder; any of which must have left unmistakable traces.
At Tafah there are two little temples; one in picturesque ruin, one quite perfect, and now used as a stable. There are also a number of stone foundations, separate, quadrangular, subdivided into numerous small chambers, and enclosed in boundary walls, some of which are built in the concave courses just named. These sub-structions, of which the Painter counted eighteen, have long been the puzzle of travellers.19
Tafah is charmingly placed; and the seven miles which divide it from Kalabsheh – once, no doubt, the scene of a cataract – are perhaps the most picturesque on this side of Wady Halfeh. Rocky islets in the river; palm-groves, acacias, carobs, henna and castor-berry bushes, and all kinds of flowering shrubs, along the edges of the banks; fantastic precipices riven and pinnacled, here rising abruptly from the water’s edge, and there from the sandy plain, make lovely sketches whichever way one turns. There are gazelles, it is said, in the ravines behind Tafah; and one of the natives – a truculent fellow in a ragged shirt and dirty white turban – tells how, at a distance of three hours up a certain glen, there is another Birbeh, larger than either of these in the plain, and a great standing statue taller than three men. Here, then, if the tale be true, is another ready-made discovery for whoever may care to undertake it.
This same native, having sold a necklace to the idle man and gone away content with his bargain, comes back by and by with half the village at his heels, requiring double price. This modest demand being refused, he rages up and down like a maniac; tears off his turban; goes through a wild manual exercise with his spear; then sits down in stately silence, with his friends and neighbours drawn up in a semi-circle behind him.
This, it seems, is Nubian for a challenge. He has thrown down his gauntlet in form, and demands trial by combat. The noisy crowd, meanwhile, increases every moment. Reïs Hassan looks grave, fearing a possible fracas; and the Idle Man, who is reading the morning service down below (for it is on a Sunday morning), can scarcely be heard for the clamour outside. In this emergency, it occurs to the Writer to send a message ashore informing these gentlemen that the Howadjis are holding mosque in the dahabeeyah, and entreating them to be quiet till the hour of prayer is past. The effect of the message, strange to say, is instantaneous. The angry voices are at once hushed. The challenger puts on his turban. The assembled spectators squat in respectful silence on the bank. A whole hour goes by thus, so giving the storm time to blow over; and when the idle man reappears on deck, his would-be adversary comes forward quite pleasantly to discuss the purchase afresh.
It matters little how the affair ended; but I believe he was offered his necklace back in exchange for the money paid, and preferred to abide by his bargain. It is as evidence of the sincerity of the religious sentiment in the minds of a semi-savage people,20 that I have thought the incident worth telling.
We are now less than forty miles from Philæ; but the head wind is always against us, and the men’s bread is exhausted, and there is no flour to be bought in these Nubian villages. The poor fellows swept out the last crumbs from the bottom of their bread-chest three or four days ago, and are now living on quarter-rations of lentil soup and a few dried dates bought at Wady Halfeh. Patient and depressed, they crouch silently beside their oars, or forget their hunger in sleep. For ourselves, it is painful to witness their need, and still more painful to be unable to help them. Talhamy, whose own stores are at a low ebb, vows he can do nothing. It would take his few remaining tins of preserved meat to feed fifteen men for two days, and of flour he has barely enough for the Howadjis. Hungry? well, yes – no doubt they are hungry. But what of that? They are Arabs; and Arabs bear hunger as camels bear thirst. It is nothing new to them. They have often been hungry before – they will often be hungry again. Enough! It is not for the ladies to trouble themselves about such fellows as these!
Excellent advice, no doubt; but hard to follow. Not to be troubled, and not to do what little we can do for the poor lads, is impossible. When that little means laying violent hands on Talhamy’s reserve of eggs and biscuits, and getting up lotteries for prizes of chocolate and tobacco, that worthy evidently considers that we have taken leave of our wits.
Under a burning sky, we touch for an hour or two at Gertássee, and then push on for Dabôd. The limestone quarries at Gertássee are full of votive sculptures and inscriptions; and the little ruin – a mere cluster of graceful columns supporting a fragment of cornice – stands high on the brink of a cliff overhanging the river. Take it as you will, from above or below, looking north or looking south, it makes a charming sketch.
If transported to Dabôd on that magic carpet of the fairy-tale, one would take it for a ruin on the “beached margent” of some placid lake in dreamland. It lies between two bends of the river, which here flows wide, showing no outlet and seeming to be girdled by mountains and palm-groves. The temple is small, and uninteresting; begun, like Dakkeh, by an Ethiopian king, and finished by Ptolemies and Cæsars. The one curious thing about it is a secret cell, most cunningly devised. Adjoining the sanctuary is a dark side-chamber; in the floor of the side-chamber is a pit, once paved over; in one corner of the pit is a man-hole opening into a narrow passage; and in the narrow passage are steps leading up to a secret chamber constructed in the thickness of the wall. We saw other secret chambers in other temples;21 but not one in which the old approaches were so perfectly preserved.
From Dabôd to Philæ is but ten miles; and we are bound for Torrigûr, which is two miles nearer. Now Torrigûr is that same village at the foot of the beautiful sand-drift, near which we moored on our way up the river; and here we are to stay two days, followed by at least a week at Philæ. No sooner, therefore, have we reached Torrigûr, than Reïs Hassan and three sailors start for Assûan to buy flour. Old Ali, Riskalli, and Mûsa, whose homes lie in the villages round about, get leave of absence for a week; and we find ourselves reduced all at once to a crew of five, with only Khaleefeh in command. Five, however, are as good as fifty, when the dahabeeyah lies moored and there is nothing to do; and our five, having succeeded in buying some flabby Nubian cakes and green lentils, are now quite happy. So the painter sketches the ruined convent opposite; and L.----- and the little lady write no end of letters; and the idle man with Mehemet Ali for a retriever, shoots quail; and everybody is satisfied.
Hapless idle man! – Hapless, but homicidal. If he had been content to shoot only quail, and had not taken to shooting babies! What possessed him to do it? Not – not, let us hope – an ill-directed ambition, foiled of crocodiles! He went serene and smiling, with his gun under his arm, and Mehemet Ali in his wake. Who so light of heart as that idle man? Who so light of heel as that turbaned retriever? We heard our sportsman popping away presently in the barley. It was a pleasant sound, for we knew his aim was true. “Every shot,” said we, “means a bird.” We little dreamed that one of those shots meant a baby.
All at once, a woman screamed. It was a sharp, sudden scream, following a shot – a scream with a ring of horror in it. Instantly it was caught up from point to point, growing in volume and seeming to be echoed from every direction at once. At the same moment, the bank became alive with human beings. They seemed to spring from the soil – women shrieking and waving their arms; men running; all making for the same goal. The writer heard the scream, saw the rush, and knew at once that a gun accident had happened.
A few minutes of painful suspense followed. Then Mehemet Ali appeared, tearing back at the top of his speed; and presently – perhaps five minutes later, though it seemed like twenty – came the idle man; walking very slowly and defiantly, with his head up, his arms folded, his gun gone, and an immense rabble at his heels.
Our scanty crew, armed with sticks, flew at once to the rescue, and brought him off in safety. We then learned what had happened.
A flight of quail had risen; and as quail fly low, skimming the surface of the grain and diving down again almost immediately, he had taken a level aim. At the instant that he fired, and in the very path of the quail, a woman and child who had been squatting in the barley, sprang up screaming. He at once saw the coming danger; and, with admirable presence of mind, drew the charge of his second barrel. He then hid his cartridge-box and hugged his gun, determined to hold it as long as possible. The next moment he was surrounded, overpowered, had the gun wrenched from his grasp, and received a blow on the back with a stone. Having captured the gun, one or two of the men let go. It was then that he shook off the rest, and came back to the boat. Mehemet Ali at the same time flew to call a rescue. He, too, came in for some hard knocks, besides having his shirt rent and his turban torn off his head.
Here were we, meanwhile, with less than half our crew, a private war on our hands, no captain, and one of our three guns in the hands of the enemy. What a scene it was! A whole village, apparently a very considerable village, swarming on the bank; all hurrying to and fro; all raving, shouting, gesticulating. If we had been on the verge of a fracas at Tafah, here we were threatened with a siege.
Drawing in the plank between the boat and the shore, we held a hasty council of war.
The woman being unhurt, and the child, if hurt at all, hurt very slightly, we felt justified in assuming an injured tone, calling the village to account for a case of cowardly assault, and demanding instant restitution of the gun. We accordingly sent Talhamy to parley with the head-man of the place and peremptorily demand the gun. We also bade him add – and this we regarded as a master-stroke of policy – that if due submission was immediately made, the Howadji, one of whom was a Hakeem, would permit the father to bring his child on board to have its hurts attended to.
Outwardly indifferent, inwardly not a little anxious, we waited the event. Talhamy’s back being towards the river, we had the whole semicircle of swarthy faces full in view – bent brows, flashing eyes, glittering teeth; all anger, all scorn, all defiance. Suddenly the expression of the faces changed – the change beginning with those nearest the speaker, and spreading gradually outwards. It was as if a wave had passed over them. We knew then that our coup was made. Talhamy returned. The villagers crowded round their leaders, deliberating. Numbers now began to sit down; and when a Nubian sits down, you may be sure that he is no longer dangerous.
Presently – after perhaps a quarter of an hour – the gun was brought back uninjured, and an elderly man carrying a blue bundle appeared on the bank. The plank was now put across; the crowd was kept off; and the man with the bundle, and three or four others, were allowed to pass.
The bundle being undone, a little brown imp of about four years of age, with shaven head and shaggy scalp-lock, was produced. He whimpered at first, seeing the strange white faces; but when offered a fig, forgot his terrors, and sat munching it like a monkey. As for his wounds, they were literally skin-deep, the shot having but slightly grazed his shoulders in four or five places. The idle man, however, solemnly sponged the scratches with warm water, and L.----- covered them with patches of sticking-plaister. Finally, the father was presented with a napoleon; the patient was wrapped in one of his murderer’s shirts; and the first act of the tragedy ended. The second and third acts were to come.
When the painter and the idle man talked the affair over, they agreed that it was expedient, for the protection of future travellers, to lodge a complaint against the village; and this mainly on account of the treacherous blow dealt from behind, at a time when the idle man (who had not once attempted to defend himself) was powerless in the hands of a mob. They therefore went next day to Assûan; and the governor, charming as ever, promised that justice should be done. Meanwhile we moved the dahabeeyah to Philæ, and there settled down for a week’s sketching.
Next evening came a woeful deputation from Torrigûr, entreating forgiveness, and stating that fifteen villagers had been swept off to prison.
The idle man explained that he no longer had anything to do with it; that the matter, in short, was in the hands of justice, and would be dealt with according to law. Hereupon the spokesman gathered up a handful of imaginary dust, and made believe to scatter it on his head.
“O dragoman!” he said, “tell the howadji that there is no law but his pleasure, and no justice but the will of the governor!”
Summoned next morning to give evidence, the idle man went betimes to Assûan, where he was received in private by the governor and mudîr. Pipes and coffee were handed, and the usual civilities exchanged. The governor then informed his guest that fifteen men of Torrigûr had been arrested; and that fourteen of them unanimously identified the fifteenth as the one who struck the blow.
“And now,” said the governor, “before we send for the prisoners, it will be as well to decide on the sentence. What does his excellency wish done to them?”
The idle man was puzzled. How could he offer an opinion, being ignorant of the Egyptian civil code? and how could the sentence be decided upon before the trial?
The governor smiled serenely.
“But,” he said, “this is the trial.”
Being an Englishman, it necessarily cost the idle man an effort to realise the full force of this explanation – an explanation which, in its sublime simplicity, epitomised the whole system of the judicial administration of Egyptian law. He hastened, however, to explain that he cherished no resentment against the culprit or the villagers, and that his only wish was to frighten them into a due respect for travellers in general.
The governor hereupon invited the mudîr to suggest a sentence; and the mudîr – taking into consideration, as he said, his excellency’s lenient disposition – proposed to award to the fourteen innocent men one month’s imprisonment each; and to the real offender two months’ imprisonment, with a hundred and fifty blows of the bastinado.
Shocked at the mere idea of such a sentence, the idle man declared that he must have the innocent set at liberty; but consented that the culprit, for the sake of example, should be sentenced to the one hundred and fifty blows – the punishment to be remitted after the first few strokes had been dealt. Word was now given for the prisoners to be brought in.
The gaoler marched first, followed by two soldiers. Then came the fifteen prisoners – I am ashamed to write it! – chained neck to neck in single file.
One can imagine how the idle man felt at this moment.
Sentence being pronounced, the fourteen looked as if they could hardly believe their ears; while the fifteenth, though condemned to his one hundred and fifty strokes (“seventy-five to each foot,” specified the governor), was overjoyed to be let off so easily.
He was then flung down; his feet were fastened soles uppermost; and two soldiers proceeded to execute the sentence. As each blow fell, he cried: “God save the governor! God save the mudîr! God save the howadji!”
When the sixth stroke had been dealt, the idle man turned to the governor and formally interceded for the remission of the rest of the sentence. The governor, as formally, granted the request; and the prisoners, weeping for joy, were set at liberty.
The governor, the mudîr, and the idle man then parted with a
of compliments; the governor protesting that his only wish was to be
to the English, and that the whole village should have been
his excellency desired it.
We spent eight enchanting days at Philæ; and it so happened, when the afternoon of the eighth came round, that for the last few hours the Writer was alone on the island. Alone, that is to say, with only a sailor in attendance, which was virtually solitude; and Philæ is a place to which solitude adds an inexpressible touch of pathos and remoteness.
It has been a hot day, and there is dead calm on the river. My last sketch finished, I wander slowly round from spot to spot, saying farewell to Pharaoh’s Bed – to the painted columns – to every terrace, and palm, and shrine, and familiar point of view. I peep once again into the mystic chamber of Osiris. I see the sun set for the last time from the roof of the temple of Isis. Then, when all that wondrous flush of rose and gold has died away, comes the warm afterglow. No words can paint the melancholy beauty of Philæ at this hour. The surrounding mountains stand out jagged and purple against a pale amber sky. The Nile is glassy. Not a breath, not a bubble, troubles the inverted landscape. Every palm is twofold; every stone is doubled. The big boulders in mid-stream are reflected so perfectly that it is impossible to tell where the rock ends and the water begins. The Temples, meanwhile, have turned to a subdued golden bronze; and the pylons are peopled with shapes that glow with fantastic life, and look ready to step down from their places.
The solitude is perfect, and there is a magical stillness in the air. I hear a mother crooning to her baby on the neighbouring island – a sparrow twittering in its little nest in the capital of a column below my feet – a vulture screaming plaintively among the rocks in the far distance.
I listen; I promise myself that I will remember it all in years
to come – all the solemn hills, these silent colonnades,
these deep, quiet
spaces of shadow, these sleeping palms. Lingering till it is all but
dark, I at
last bid them farewell, fearing lest I may behold them no more.
1 Tosko is on the eastern bank, and not, as in Keith Johnston’s map, on the west.
2 This is one of the temples erected by Rameses the Great, and, I believe, not added to by any of his successors. The colossi, the Osiride columns, the sphinxes (now battered out of all human semblance) were originally made in his image. The cartouches are all his, and in one of the inner chambers there is a list of his little family. All these chambers were accessible till three or four years ago, when a party of German travellers carried off some sculptured tablets of great archæological interest, after which act of spoliation the entrance was sanded up by order of Mariette Bey. See also, with regard to the probably date of the earthquake at this place, chap. xviii. p. 321.
3 Not only near this nameless town, but in many other parts between Abou Simbel and Philæ, we found the old alluvial soil lying as high as from 20 to 30 feet above the level of the present innundations.
4 Ar. Birbeh, temple.
5 “The Nile receives its last tributary, the Atbara, in Lat. 17° 42’ N., at the northern extremity of the peninsular tract anciently called the island of Meroë, and thence flows N. (a single stream without the least accession) through 12 degrees of latitude; or, following its winding course, at least 1200 miles, to the sea.” – "Blackie’s Imperial Gazetteer," 1861. A careful survey of the country would probably bring to light the dry beds of many more such tributaries as the one described above.
6 Of this wall, Burckhardt notices that “it has fallen down, apparently from some sudden and violent concussion, as the stones are lying on the ground in layers, as when placed in the wall; a proof that they must have fallen all at once.” – "Travels in Nubia:" Ed. 1819, p. 100. But he has not observed the inscription, which is in large characters, and consists of three lines on three separate layers of stones. The idle man copied the original upon the spot, which copy has since been identified with an ex-voto of a Roman soldier published in Boeckh’s "Corpus Inscr. Græc.," of which the following is a translation:
“The vow of Verecundus the soldier, and his most pious parents, and Gaius his little brother, and the rest of his brethren.”
7 A clew, however, might possibly be found to the date. There is a rudely sculptured tableau – the only piece of sculpture in the place – on a detached wall near the standing columns. It represents Isis worshipped by a youth in a short toga. Both figures are lumpish and ill-modelled; and Isis, seated under a conventional fig-tree, wears her hair erected in stiff rolls over the forehead, like a diadem. It is the face and stiffly dressed hair of Marciana, the sister of Trajan, as shown upon the well-known coin engraved in Smith’s "Dic. of Greek and Roman Biography," vol. ii. p. 939. Maharrakeh is the Hiera Sycaminos, or place of the sacred fig-tree, where ends the Itinerary of Antoninus.
8 See The Scarabæus Sacer by C. Woodrooffe, B.A., – a paper (based on notes by the late Rev. C. Johns) read before the Winchester and Hampshire Scientific and Literary Society, Nov. 8, 1875. Privately printed.
9 See chap. x. p. 163. Dakkeh (the Pselcis of the Greeks and Romans, the Pselk of the Egyptians) was at one time regarded as the confine of Egypt and Ethiopia, and would seem to have been a great military station. The inscribed potsherds here are chiefly receipts and accounts of soldiers’ pay. The walls of the Temple outside, and of the chambers within, abound also in free-hand graffiti, most of which are written in red ink. We observed some that appeared to be trilingual.
10 “Less than a quarter of a mile to the south are the ruins of a small sandstone Temple with clustered columns; and on the way, near the village, you pass a stone stela of Amenemha III, mentioning his eleventh year.” – "Murray’s Handbook for Egypt," p. 481. M. Maspero, writing of Thothmes III, says, “Sons fils et successeur, Amenhotep III, fit construire en face de Pselkis une forteresse importante.” – "Hist. Ancienne des Peuples de l’Orient." Chap. iii. p. 113.
At Kobban also was found the famous stela of Rameses II, called the Stela of Dakkeh; see chap. xv. p. 238. In this inscription, a cast from which is at the Louvre, Rameses II is stated to have caused an artesian well to be made in the desert between this place and Gebel Oellaky, in order to facilitate the working of the gold mines of those parts.
11 “According to Ptolemy, Metachompso should be opposite Pselcis, where there are extensive brick ruins. If so, Metachompso and Contra Pselcis must be the same town.” – "Topography of Thebes," etc; Sir G. Wilkinson. Ed. 1835, p. 488. M. Vivien de St. Martin is, however, of opinion that the island of Derar, near Maharrakeh, is the true Metachompso. See "Le Nord de l’Afrique," section vi. p. 161. Be this as it may, we at all events know of one great siege that this fortress sustained, and of one great battle fought beneath its walls. “The Ethiopians,” says Strabo, “having taken advantage of the withdrawal of part of the Roman forces, surprised and took Syene, Elephantine, and Philæ, enslaved the inhabitants, and threw down the statues of Cæsar. But Petronius, marching with less than 10,000 infantry and 800 horse against an army of 30,000 men, compelled them to retreat to Pselcis. He then sent deputies to demand restitution of what they had taken, and the reasons which had induced them to begin the war. On their alleging that they had been ill treated by the monarchs, he answered that these were not the sovereigns of the country – but Cæsar. When they desired three days for consideration and did nothing which they were bound to do, Petronius attacked and compelled them to fight. They soon fled, being badly commanded and badly armed, for they carried large shields made of raw hides, and hatchets for offensive weapons. Part of the insurgents were driven into the city, others fled into the uninhabited country, and such as ventured upon the passage of the river escaped to a neighbouring island, where there were not many crocodiles, on account of the current. . . . Petronius then attacked Pselcis, and took it.” – Strabo's "Geography," Bohn’s translation, 1857, vol. iii. pp. 267-268. This island to which the insurgents fled may have been the large sand island which here still occupies the middle of the river, and obstructs the approach to Dakkeh. Or they may have fled to the island of Derar, seven miles higher up. Strabo does not give the name of the island.
12 “C’est un ouvrage non achevé du temps de l’empereur Auguste. Quoique peu important par son étendue, ce monument m’a beaucoup interessé, puisqu’il est entièrement relatif à l’incarnation d’Osiris sous forme humaine, sur la terre.” – Lettres écrites d’Egypte, etc.: Champollion. Paris, 1868, p. 126.
13 I observed mauve here, for the first and only time; and very brilliant ultramarine. There are also traces of gilding on many of the figures.
14 See chap. xii. p. 199.
15 Talmis: (Kalabsheh).
16 Taphis: (Tafah).
17 Blemyes:– The Blemyes were a nomadic race of Berbers, supposed to be originally of the tribes of Bilmas of Tibbous in the central desert, and settled as early as the time of Erastosthenes in that part of the Valley of the Nile which lies between the first and second cataracts. See "Le Nord de l’Afrique," by M. V. de St. Martin. Paris, 1863, Section III, p. 73.
18 See "The Habitations of Man in all Ages." V. le Duc. Chap. ix p. 93.
19 They probably mark the site of a certain Coptic monastery described in an ancient Arabic MS. quoted by E. Quatremere, which says that “in the town of Tafah there is a fine monastery called the monastery of Ansoun. It is very ancient; but so solidly built, that after so great a number of years it still stands uninjured. Near this monastery, facing the mountain, are situated fifteen villages.” See "Mémoires Hist. et Géographiques sur l’Egypte et le Nubie," par E. Quatremere. Paris, 1811, vol. ii. p. 55.
The monastery and the villages were, doubtless, of Romano-Egyptian construction in the first instance, and may originally have been a sacred college, like the sacred college at Philæ.
20 “The peasants of Tafa relate that they are the descendants of the few Christian inhabitants of the city who embraced the Mohammedan faith when the country was conquered by the followers of the Prophet; the greater part of their brethren having either fled or been put to death on that event taking place. They are still called Oulad el Nusara, or the Christian progeny.” – "Travels in Nubia:" Burckhardt. London, 1819, p. 121.
21 In these secret chambers (the entrance to which was closed by a block of masonry so perfectly fitted as to defy detection) were kept the images of gold and silver and lapis lazuli, the precious vases, the sistrums, the jewelled collars, and all the portable treasures of the Temples. We saw a somewhat similar pit and small chamber in a corner of the Temple of Dakkeh, and some very curious crypts and hiding places under the floor of the dark chamber to the east of the sanctuary of Philæ, all of course long since broken open and rifled. But we had strong reason to believe that the painter discovered the whereabouts of a hidden chamber or passage to the west of the sanctuary, yet closed, with all its treasures probably intact. We had, however, no means of opening the wall, which is of solid masonry.