In the final chapter of this book Prestwich draws together the ideas and themes he explored in the rest of the book and discusses what it meant to be English during this period (1225-1360). On the one hand England was a pretty cosmopolitan society - there were many leading figures in the government who weren't English born, and migrants with useful skills were encouraged (Flemish weavers during Edward III's reign, for instance). On the other hand there was a strong sense of an English identity. Foreigners apparently had a simple stereotype: Englishmen had tails and were usually drunk! The English themselves had a bit more of a nuanced view, although not necessarily more complimentary. The author of the Vita of Edward II for instance said that the English "excel other nations in three qualities, in pride, in craft and in perjury". The north/south divide is already evident during this time - southerners are considered more civilised. And there is still a sense of an ethnic divide between the aristocracy (of Norman descent) and commoners (of Saxon descent) but both are also considered English.

Language was important to both national identity and social status. There was a sense that English people should speak English - and Edward III used the idea that the French wanted to wipe out the use of English in England as a piece of propaganda to drum up popular support for his wars in France. But speaking French still marked one as part of the social elite. Prestwich discusses how this French is changing and becoming more English - by the end of the period it's generally a learnt language not a naturally acquired one, and the French definitely think that the English speakers of French don't speak it properly. Culturally England is still close to Northern France, but differences are beginning to emerge. The English literature of the period (whether written in English or French) has a distinctive voice, and has English heroes and covers themes & political concerns peculiar to England.

During this period English art & architecture also developed a distinct style. For most of the 13th Century Western European culture was dominated by the French styles of architecture, but by the late 13th Century the English Decorated style was developing. It was more exuberant, and featured more naturalistic carving & sculpture. Art in the form of paintings hasn't survived in particularly great numbers & Prestwich doesn't discuss how this compared to the previous French style. Illuminated manuscripts and embroidery (tapestry) do survive and display high quality work - some of it reflecting the new English Decorated style of the architecture.

The legal system was an important part of English identity. In border regions whose law you were subjected to was important - a lord who had both English and Welsh tenants in the Marches would be expected to deal with the two groups via their own law and their own courts. The legal system in England was distinctive in that it was not codified - it was a law based on litigation and precedents, and it was primarily learnt by attending courts. This was something that struck me in particular while I was reading this book - how much is known because the court records are preserved, and how often people took each other to court.

The mythology surrounding England's origins as a country had a couple of different (mutually contradictory strands) during this era. One strand emphasised King Arthur and the Britons, with an ultimate origin of the country in Brutus the Trojan who defeated giants in Albion and founded Britain. The other concentrated on the Anglo-Saxons and the uniting of their kingdoms, and appealed to the authority of Bede's history of the English.

The wars of the period helped to strengthen the sense of Englishness. In the case of the Anglo-Scottish wars there weren't particularly large cultural differences between the two sides, but propaganda (on both sides) still made the enemy out to be vicious barbarians coming to commit atrocities against civilised people. The Anglo-French wars are often held up as important in forging an sense of Englishness as distinct from the Norman culture that stretched across England and Northern France. However Prestwich thinks it wasn't that significant - he sees most of the national sentiments as being there already. And points out that Edward III would want to be careful about negative portrayals of the people he hoped to rule if he won.

The intellectual life of England was a significant part of the mainstream European intellectual culture. Oxford and Cambridge were two of the greatest universities of Europe in this period. Prestwich gives mini-biographies of a few of the intellectual elite - including Ockham of Ockham's Razor - and discusses briefly the controversy of the day: nominalism vs. realism. Slightly confusingly nominalism is the school of thought that the only real things are those that can be observed and tested, whereas realism holds that there are absolute realities which the actual objects can only be approximations of.

Prestwich concludes by looking at the large scale trends throughout the period that the book covers. In the 1220s England was politically unstable with a weak monarchy and factional rifts among the ruling elite. The country was also militarily weak, and had barely succeeded in keeping independent of French rule. In contrast, the economy was strong, the population was rising and the peasants were firmly under the thumb of the aristocracy. By the 1360s this was reversed - England was politically and militarily strong, but the economy and population had collapsed (particularly in the wake of the Black Death). The peasantry were more able to make their feelings known as labour was now scarce. One of the key developments of the era not touched on by my simplistic summary was the emergence of Parliament as a mechanism for the monarch to consult with not just the highest ranking nobles but also the community of the realm as a whole via representatives for each county.

And so I have finally finished this book - I was reading it for around 18 months in the end. Which is too long! And it was primarily because I wasn't very diligent at coming back to reading it. But also because writing the summaries takes time and so I don't tend to read much more till I'm caught up with that in case I get too far ahead of myself. On the other hand, writing the summaries means I've retained rather more of the information, so I think it's a net positive.

I enjoyed reading the book - I found Prestwich's style readable and at times humorous (in a dry academic fashion). When I've whittled down my to-be-read pile a bit I may look for some more of his books - I know he's written a biography of Edward I which would be interesting. It's part of a series of books from Yale University Press on English Monarchs, which may make for an interesting project once I've finished the New Oxford History of England series (of which the present book is part) in a decade or two!

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there.



The Merchant Princes Trilogy, Charles Stross - part portal/world walking fantasy, part sci-fi thriller. New.

Total: 1


Al-Ghazali - In Our Time episode about Al-Ghazali, a leading intellectual in the Islamic world of the 11th Century AD.

The California Gold Rush - In Our Time episode about the California gold rush in 1849 and its effects on the USA and the world.

Total: 2


"Horemheb" Charlotte Booth - July EEG meeting talk.

Total: 1


Egypt Holiday 2014: Ramasseum.

Egypt Holiday 2014: Valley of the Kings.

Total: 2

Tags: Admin

The California Gold Rush was sparked by the discovery of gold in a river in January 1848 and not only did it make some individuals rich but it also had a significant impact on the politics and economy of the USA and the world. Discussing it on In Our Time were Kathleen Burk (University College London), Jacqueline Fear-Segal (University of East Anglia) and Frank Cogliano (University of Edinburgh).

When gold was discovered in what would become the state of California the land it was discovered on was not actually under the control of the USA. War between the USA and Mexico ended in February 1848 with the signing of a treaty that had the Mexicans cede that part of the continent to the USA. I imagine once they knew what they'd signed away they weren't best pleased. At the time the area was inhabited by around 150,000 Native Americans, down from a previous population of 300,000 due to diseases and other effects of the colonisation of the Americas by Europeans. There were also around 6,000 Mexicans and other assorted immigrants.

News of the discovery of gold was initially slow to spread, and didn't get taken seriously by the outside world until late 1848. Thus the gold rush proper was in 1849 - and until I listened to this programme I hadn't really put two & two together and realised that the song Oh My Darling Clementine refers to the gold rush ("In a cavern, in a canyon, Excavating for a mine, Dwelt a miner forty niner, And his daughter Clementine.").

In 1849 the population of the area increased significantly - by 1850 there were 100,000 settlers who had been drawn there by the gold. Most of the new immigrants were young men looking to get rich. The region was not yet a state, and it had none of the apparatus of government - amongst other things no law enforcement nor even laws. One of the experts described it as like "a stag party, they came and trashed California". Most came to mine gold and hopefully make their fortunes that way, but those who came to sell supplies (mining equipment & food alike) to the miners were the ones who were most likely to become rich. This second category included Leland Stanford, who founded Stanford University.

These new settlers came from all over the world. From all 21 states of the USA and from 25 other countries. Not just Europeans either, there were settlers from various South American countries and from China. The journey to the territory was an arduous one no matter where you were coming from, and particularly so from Europe or the East Coast of the USA. By land it took 5 months, and there are few places where it's possible to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains. By sea - you could cross the Pacific from China, or sail round the bottom of South America, or cross the continent at Panama (by land, the canal is not there yet) - all of which options have their difficulties and dangers.

The scale of mining operations progressed quickly. At first the stereotypical image of the lone miner panning for gold in a river was pretty accurate, and it was possible for individuals to set up on their own and strike rich. But as time went on mining techniques became more intensive and required more capital to set up. No longer did a lone incomer have much of a chance of getting his lucky strike on his own. As it became more industrialised it also became more destructive. By this I mean they were doing things like diverting rivers and blowing up parts of the mountains in order to extract more gold. As well as this physical destruction of the environment there was also a lot of mercury used in the gold extraction processes - which ended up in the rivers of California.

California may've started out as a lawless place in 1849 but it became incorporated as a state of the USA very quickly. In 1852 they had got themselves organised and went to the Senate with their constitution already written and asked to be made a state. At this point they already had double the number of people necessary to be considered. This had an unforeseen knock-on effect - they were the 31st state and were a free state. At this point in the USA's history tensions were rising between the North (free states) and the South (slave states) although it would be another few years before the Civil War broke out in 1861. To ease the tension states were being admitted in pairs, one slave and one free at a time. However California's swift self-organisation side-stepped around that procedure and unbalanced the Senate. Utah and New Mexico were admitted as slave states to re-balance it but didn't actually have a slave owning economy.

And in a reminder that the issues are never simple: despite being a free state California is actually one of the first to enact institutionally racist laws. One axis of this is the regulation specifically of Chinese immigration. Another is protection and governance laws concerning the Native American population. Despite the idealistic name these laws actually disenfranchised and dispossessed Native Americans. There was also official encouragement of the lynching of Chinese & Native Americans who "stepped out of line".

Obviously the biggest effect of the gold rush was on the economy - not just of California and the USA but also globally. For instance one of the experts made a case that the gold rush was critical for the Industrial Revolution in the UK. If there had not been more people with more money to buy the goods that the newly mechanised UK industry was producing then it would not have happened so fast or so succesfully.

The gold rush also affected the culture of the USA. For instance the American Dream mythology began as a spiritual Puritan vision of the City on the Hill being a shining beacon of virtue for the rest of the world to look up to. But after the gold rush this changes to a more material idea - you don't go to the USA (or to the West Coast) to live the best life you can, you go to get rich quick. California still occupies this sort of cultural space - you go to California to [find gold]/[be a film star]/[join a tech startup] (delete as appropriate). Hollywood and Silicon Valley are the descendants of the strike it lucky & get rich quick ethos of the gold rush.

Towards the end of the programme they talked a little about the role of women in this era of California's history. The main point they brought out was that there weren't many women, and so in some ways their social capital was higher than in other parts of the USA. The example used was that divorce was easier for a woman to initiate. I'd've liked it if they'd spent a bit more time on this - my notes that I'm writing this up from say that I thought they had more to say about the knock-on effects of this on modern US society.

Obviously you can't spend any time on holiday in Luxor without a trip to the Valley of the Kings, and we went there on the 4th day of the Luxor part of our trip. This was one of the advertised highlights of the tour as we had special access to one of the tombs that isn't generally open to the public (that of Seti I). We got to the valley around 6:30am and then had it pretty much to ourselves for a few hours. We had the standard "see three tombs" ticket, plus J & I bought an extra ticket to see the tomb of Ramesses V & VI. We didn't go for Tutankhamun's tomb as well - we'd seen it last time and didn't think we'd have time to fit it in before going to the Seti I tomb. Originally there had been planned to be two trips to the Valley of the Kings on the holiday so we had half thought about visiting it on the second day, but plans changed and we got to go to the Valley of the Queens instead (which was cool, as I'd not been there before).

(All pictures in this post are taken from on Wikimedia Commons with licences that meant I could use them because cameras are strictly forbidden in the Valley so I have no photos of my own.)

Tutmosis IV (KV43)

The first of the tombs we went in was that of Tutmosis IV (KV43) - we picked one each from the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasty for our set of three and visited them in chronological order. Tutmosis IV was the son of Amenhotep II and the father of Amenhotep III, and he ruled around 1400BC (roughly speaking). He is the Pharaoh who had the Dream Stela erected between the paws of the Sphinx at Giza, which says that he had a dream that if he restored that monument then he would be favoured by the gods and become Pharaoh, and lo! this is what happened. Which rather suggests that there were some irregularities in his acquisition of the throne, and it is known that he wasn't the original Crown Prince.

wall decoration in KV43
Wall Decoration in KV43 (photo by wikimedia user Neithsabes)

My main recollection of this tomb is that it didn't have much decoration compared to the ones we saw after it. As you walk down into the tomb at the end of the first passageway you cross a deep well (via a modern bridge) and this chamber is decorated. Then you turn left into another corridor, and just before you turn left again at the end to come out into the burial chamber there is another decorated chamber. I remember the decoration as being reminiscent in style of that in Tutankhamun's tomb - large figures, feeling almost oversized, on a yellowy background. The plain burial chamber still has the sarcophagus at the end of it, decorated with hieroglyphs, and we spent a while with Dylan walking round it while he talked about what the various things were.

This tomb also has a later piece of hieratic graffiti in it. It had apparently been robbed and in Horemheb's reign (last Pharaoh of Dynasty 18 or first of 19 depending how you look at it) an official had been dispatched to restore & re-seal the tomb. He (or perhaps his deputy) wrote a little note to say he'd been there and done this - Stephen Cross talked about this when he visited the Essex Egyptology Group as part of his talk on the Valley of the Kings (post).

Tutmosis IV's mummy wasn't discovered in his tomb - in antiquity it had been moved to KV35 (Amenhotep II's tomb) along with several other royal mummies. It's now in the Cairo Museum.

Tawosret and Setnakhte (KV14)

The next of the tombs we visited was KV14. Who it was dug for, and who was buried there, is a bit confusing (even the Kent Weeks book says that!) but it is from the last years of the 19th Dynasty and the beginning of the 20th Dynasty. It was probably originally dug for Seti II and his Queen Tawosret, and Seti II may well have been buried there in the first burial chamber you come to. When Seti II died his young son Siptah took the throne with Tawosret as regent, and when Siptah died young she took over and declared herself Pharaoh. The decoration in KV14 was partially altered for Siptah but he was then buried in KV47 and Tawosret started to alter the decoration again for herself. However she didn't last long on the throne and was overthrown by Sethnakhte. He intended himself to be buried in KV11 (see below) but when his son Ramesses III came to the throne he had his father interred in KV14. So the decoration once again began to be altered (particularly removing Tawosret). However given the rapid turnover of intended occupant most of the decoration is that which was designed for Tawosret as either Queen or Pharaoh (where she ended up buried is unknown, perhaps KV13). Kent Weeks labels the second burial chamber on his plan of the tomb as "Burial Chamber of Tawosret with Sethnakhte's Sarcophagus" which seems to sum up this confused tomb!

wall decoration in KV14
Wall Decoration in KV14 (photo by flickr user Gaspa via a modified version on wikimedia)

This tomb was much more fully decorated than Tutmosis IV's tomb, and the style more reminiscent of the tombs we'd seen last time we visited the Valley of the Kings. I'm not sure if this is a pre-/post-Amarna period shift, but that would seem plausible. And now is when anyone reading who is particularly into Egyptian tombs wishes it wasn't me writing this ... ;) I was mostly looking at the recurring motifs in the decoration, and appreciating their aesthetic qualities rather than looking at the meaning & symbolism of the composition as a whole. So from this tomb onwards a lot of what I was looking at was snakes - snakes with legs, snakes with heads, snakes as walls (particularly protecting gods or the deceased), snakes as paths, snakes as transport. Snakes everywhere, once you got your eye in. Sadly none of the photos I found to use for this tomb had particularly prominent snakes in them.

Ramesses III (KV11)

For the third tomb on our ticket we chose the properly 20th Dynasty tomb of Ramesses III (KV11). Ramesses III was the son of Sethnakhte and can be seen as the last great Egyptian Pharaoh. He had a long but somewhat turbulent reign - he is the Pharaoh who fought off the Sea Peoples amongst other invaders. And internal politics must also have been full of conflict as he was (probably) eventually assassinated by a harem conspiracy led by one of his wives (Tiye) and one of his sons (Pentaweret).

wall decoration in KV11
Wall Decoration in KV11 (photo by Wikimedia user Sinuhe20)

As I mentioned above this tomb was started by Sethnakhte but Ramesses III took it over. As you go down the initial corridor after a while you suddenly come to an undecorated wall with a little label saying Amenmeses. And then you have to turn right then immediately left in order to follow the corridor further into the tomb. When it was being built for Sethnakhte the workmen misjudged where to put the tomb, and broke through into KV10 (the tomb of Amenmeses, a 19th Dynasty Pharaoh). This may be why work stopped and there was a long gap between Sethnakhte being buried in KV14 and Ramesses III restarting work on KV11. We had organised our viewings of the tombs perfectly - the quality of the decoration in this tomb is a step up from that in KV14 which had been a step up from KV43. I was again mostly looking out for snakes in all their many roles. This time I've found a photo to use that has some - the three (one with human body) here are the deities Nepret, Renenutet and Hu.

Ramesses V & Ramesses VI (KV9)

KV9 is one of the tombs in the Valley for which you have to purchase an extra ticket - we did that this time as we'd seen Tutankhamun's tomb last time we visited. This tomb was started by Ramesses V and completed by Ramesses VI, and both Pharaohs were buried here. The reigns of these sons and grandsons of Ramesses III were all pretty short, and the direct line of succession kept dying out - the succession goes: Ramesses IV (son), Ramesses V (grandson), Ramesses VI (son), Ramesses VII (grandson), Ramesses VIII (son) and then Ramesses IX whose relationship to the others is obscure but possibly a grandson (according to Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton's book "The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt). This is one of the reasons Ramesses III can be considered the last great Egyptian Pharaoh as I mentioned above. The tomb was robbed in antiquity, and the bodies of both Pharaohs were moved to the cache of royal mummies in KV35 shortly afterwards.

wall decoration in KV9
Wall Decoration in KV11 (photo by It:Wikipedia user Hotepibre)

The decoration in this tomb was another step up in quality and the tomb itself felt more spacious. Kent Weeks devotes about 30 pages of his Luxor guidebook to describing the scenes in this tomb, and I wish we'd owned the book before we visited as I might've had a much better idea of what I was looking at if I'd read it first! The reason he discusses it so thoroughly is that it contains more complete versions of several of the texts than are usually found. Again I was mostly looking for the snake motifs I'd been looking at in the other tombs. I also particularly noted the ceiling in the burial chamber, which was pretty spectacular. It is painted in blue with gold figures & hieroglpyhs showing the Goddess Nut and two of the astronomical texts depicting the passage of the sun god through the day and the night.

Seti I (KV17)

We broke with chronological order here to go to the featured highlight of the visit to the Valley - KV17, the tomb of Seti I. Seti was either the second or third Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty (depending on how one counts Horemheb), and the son of Ramesses I and father of Ramesses II. One of the threads running through our holiday was Seti I - we had seen the man himself in the Cairo Museum, his temple at Abydos, now his tomb and would soon see his mortuary temple. He was also a shadowy presence whenever we saw anything relating to Ramesses II, as Medhat would compare the art styles of father and son (with son always coming up as lacking his father's taste & refinement).

wall decoration in KV17
Wall Decoration in KV17 (photo by flickr user Jean-Pierre Dalbéra via wikimedia)

This tomb was again a step up in quality of the decoration - as you would expect from Seti I. It's been damaged significantly since its original discovery in 1817 - in part by archaeologists of the time making "squeezes" (where you put wet paper on the wall then let it dry to copy the design), in part by archaeologists removing chunks of wall for museums, and in part because of flooding (made worse by removal of natural barriers at the tomb entrance preventing the water from entering the tomb). However the damage isn't really what one notices when actually there - yes, it's obvious, but you can still get an idea of how it used to be. We had a limited time in this tomb, so I started by making my way to the bottom fairly briskly then working my way back up. Again I was mostly looking for snake motifs, but I did note some other things. In the last of the decorated chambers you can get to there was a rather odd feature running right round the wall that looked almost like it was supporting a ceiling halfway up the room. It was even decorated with the sorts of motifs you find round the coving in Egyptian rooms. One of the rooms further up was unfinished, which is always fascinating - you get to see how the designs were created. And of course there were snake motifs too, the one that particularly caught my eye (that I hadn't seen in the other tombs) was a long snake running across the whole of one wall of a room plus bits on the adjoining two walls. It had 12 mummies laid out on it, evenly spaced. Each mummy had 2 pairs of legs associated with it, descending from the snake - so it was like twelve mummification beds in a row.

When I first read The Merchant Princes series by Charles Stross (of which the first trilogy is currently published) several years ago they were advertised as fantasy rather than as a science fiction/techno thriller and were published as six books. I'd been getting them out of the library then but stalled out on the third or fourth of the books as the library didn't have the next one. So when I realised the books had been revised and re-released as 3 books it seemed the perfect time to pick them up and finally find out what happened. These three are The Bloodline Feud, The Traders' War and The Revolution Trade

The story opens with Miriam Beckstein getting herself fired from her job as a biotech journalist by being just a little bit too good at following where the dodgy looking funding deals are coming from. Turns out that if your employer's owner is involved he might not be so keen on having you break the story ... When she visits her adoptive mother for sympathy she brings home a box of heirlooms/trinkets, one of which is a locket with an intricate design on it. Examining it more closely she ends up somewhere else, with a splitting headache. And nothing will ever be the same again ... for her, or either (any!) of the worlds. It turns out that Miriam is, in fact, a princess of sorts - her family in the other world might be nouveau riche but as they and they alone have the ability to walk between the worlds they have political power and wealth that the better bred aristocracy of that world can only dream about.

When Miriam first stumbles into her heritage the Family make their money and generate their power in fairly simple ways. Their own world is technologically less advanced than ours so communication and transport across the landmass of the Americas is very slow, and they make their money by transporting goods and information very quickly via our world. In our world they make their money by transporting drugs very slowly but utterly securely in their own world (as well as growing their own heroin to sell). A pretty medieval way of doing business, and to Miriam's mind it's about time it was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. She's hampered in that goal by many of the other medieval aspects of this new world ... the status of women, for instance, and the Machiavellian political situation. And it turns out that these are not the only worlds, and they are not quite the only people who can walk between them.

They're pretty hard books to give a summary of even the jumping off point - I've written those two paragraphs and feel like I've barely touched on the elements that are in the books. It starts out as a fairly straightforward portal fantasy/wish fulfilment fantasy trope: adopted girl finds out that she's a princess in another world. And then Stross takes a good look at the ramifications of that. What would it really be like as a 30-something 21st Century American woman to suddenly become a medieval/early modern noblewoman? Answer: It would suck. And not just in the obvious ways, Miriam also doesn't have the cultural toolkit necessary to navigate such a hierarchical world where honour and losing face matter - it's not like she was particularly good at it even in her own world, just look at how she gets herself fired.

And it's not just the ramifications of that fantasy. For instance: once deciding to do business by transporting drugs (such an obvious step), the Family are then embroiled in the rest of the drug trade in the US ... and the law enforcement agencies, the government etc etc. As the series progresses the ways in which the two worlds' political, military and security establishments are tangled together get more clear, and the consequences of the events set in motion by Miriam get ever more severe.

Culture shock and the misunderstandings when one culture meets another are a theme across the series. This is most obvious in Miriam's reaction to the new world she finds herself in. But it also comes across in how the politics between the worlds plays out - assumptions made about how "of course they won't do X so we can do Y" don't always turn out the way the people involved expect. And it's present through all the small stuff too - Miriam constantly mis-steps because her cultural values aren't the same as her new family's and vice versa.

The science fiction aspect of them takes a while to show up, but one of the big things is that the "stare at this pattern and travel" ability isn't magic. And one of the threads of this trilogy that I most want to see where it's going in the next books is the exploration of both the worlds they can get to and where the ability comes from.

I could do with re-reading these, even fairly soon - to see how knowing the big reveals ahead of time changes what I think of the earlier sections. Also because I'm not sure I followed all the twists & turns of the Machiavellian politics and that might be easier the second time round.

Definitely a series worth reading :)

Al-Ghazali was a leading intellectual in the Islamic world of the 11th Century AD, a philosopher, lawyer, teacher, thinker and mystic who made important contributions to Islamic philosophy and to sharia law. The experts on In Our Time who discussed his life and work were Peter Adamson (LMU in Munich), Carole Hillenbrand (Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities) and Robert Gleave (University of Exeter).

The era in which Al-Ghazali lived was one of political change. The caliphate was beginning to collapse, and the Christian Crusaders were fighting for and conquering parts of the Middle East. There was a rump of the old Umayyad caliphate in Spain, and their Abbasid replacement had for a while been a figurehead government with the Shi'ite military holding the actual power. When Al-Ghazali was alive the Shi'ites were in control in Egypt, but the Sunnis had restored the caliphate to actual power in the east (where Al-Ghazali lived). This was an intellectually rich era, with many important and influential scholars. An important piece of context for Al-Ghazali's life and work is that he was born when the translation movement had just finished its project of translating the works of the Greek philosophers into Arabic.

Al-Ghazali was born in the 11th Century in Persia and was of humble origins. He was orphaned, and so doesn't receive his education because of his family connections - instead he is identified as being particularly clever. He was educated in all the subjects that an Islamic intellectual of the era should be - including the Qu'ran and Sharia law. He clearly excelled as when he moves to Baghdad in 1090 he soon gets the best job in the city, when he is still only 33. During the 5 years he lives in Baghdad he is the most senior person in the biggest mosque in the city. His primary duty is teaching, but the role is also a political one - for instance he wrote a tract rebuking the Shi'ite rulers of Egypt.

During his time in Baghdad he writes a work called The Incoherence of the Philosophers which is a rebuttal of the use of Aristotle and the other Greek philosophers in Islamic religious philosophy. this sets him in direct opposition to the leading thinker of the previous generation. The main thrust of his argument is that the Greek notions of causality leave no room for the actions of God in the world. For example if you hold a flame to cotton then the Greek philosophers would say that the fire causes the cotton to burn. But Al-Ghazali believes you need to leave space for God and for miracles. So it is God that causes the cotton to burn when the flame is held to it, and God could choose that the cotton doesn't burn (i.e. a miracle would occur).

Al-Ghazali was also influential in the field of Sharia law. His work on this topic was philosophical in nature and focussed on the principles behind the laws. These are more important than the details of the laws themselves because an understanding of the principle behind a law will allow the law to be adapted to the changing realities of the world.

After he had been in Baghdad for five years he suffered some sort of breakdown. He left the city and his high status job and wandered as a Sufi mystic. Sufism is focussed on a direct personal and mystical connection with God, and this contrasts with mainstream Islam (which focusses on obedience to the laws). Although he lived a life outside the teaching structure of Islam he continued to publish on philosophical matters - now within the Sufi tradition. At the time Sufism was not very closely aligned with the rest of Islamic thought and it was Al-Ghazali's work in this part of his life that brought it and mainstream Islam closer together.

In their summing up at the end of the programme the experts said that although a lot of his writing concerned philosophy (and he played an important role at the time) his lasting legacy is in the field of Sharia law.

Colossal Statue
Colossal Statue at the Ramesseum

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert...Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

                                                     Percy Bysshe Shelley

We got to the Ramesseum a little before sunset and there was something about the quality of the light and the shapes of what's left of the temple that meant I could see why it would inspire poetry. In looking up the temple (and checking the words of the poem) to write this post I discovered that Ozymandias wasn't just a name Shelley invented, it's a Greek rendering of User-Ma'at-Ra (which is one of Ramesses II's names). And the inscription wasn't invented out of whole cloth by Shelley either - in the 1st Century AD Diodorus Siculus visited the site and (erroneously) claimed to have seen an inscription on the statue: "I am Ozymandias, king of kings, if any would know how great I am, and where I lie, let him excel me in any of my works."

As always, my photos from this site are on flickr. Click here for the full set or on any image (other than the plan) in this post to go flickr.

plan of the Ramesseum
A plan of the Ramesseum originally by James Quibell, image created by wikimedia user Alensha

The inscription might be an invention but I rather suspect Ramesses II would like it. The Ramesseum is his mortuary temple, the Egyptian name of which means "The Temple of Millions of Years of User-Ma'at-Ra United with Thebes in the Estates of Amen West of Thebes". The overall layout of the temple is much the same as Seti I's mortuary temple or Medinet Habu (Ramesses III's mortuary temple) both of which we visited later in the trip. Although the plan above marks in all the walls etc it's a lot more ruined than that appears.

Anubis StatueRamesseum
Anubis Statue (left), Ramesseum (right)

We approached the temple from the north side (right hand side of the plan), walking down a long walkway past a reconstructed large statue of Anubis. This would once have been part of an avenue lined with these statues (similar to the Avenue of Sphinxes at Karnak & Luxor temples) - I wish more of them survived, that would be quite a sight to see! We entered the temple into the first court between the First Pylon and the Second Pylon - you can't get to the front of the First Pylon these days as there is a village up next to it, and the gateway is blocked up. The pylon is in a pretty poor state but on what's left of the side we could see you can still see the reliefs. As always with Ramesses II these focus on the Battle of Kadesh, his favourite piece of propaganda. The lefthand wall of the pylon has the King seated on a throne, meeting with his advisers, while all around his army are encamped. On the right hand wall are chaotic scenes of the battle itself.

First PylonThe Battle of Kadesh
First Pylon (left), Battle of Kadesh Relief (right)

Turning around to look at the Second Pylon what one mostly looks at is the colossal statue that inspired Shelley's poem. It's not known if it was one of a pair, and may originally have been intended for Amenhotep III's mortuary temple (and then usurped by Ramesses II). According to the Kent Weeks Luxor guide, it is the largest monolithic statue ever sculpted. The ear is over a metre long, and the shoulders are over 7m broad. It's not known when it fell - but it was sometime between when Diodorus Siculus visited and the 18th Century AD.

Battle ScenesGraffiti
Battle Scenes (left), Graffiti (right)

Beyond the Second Pylon is the Second Court, which is mostly in ruins. There are still some large statues, which would look impressive if they weren't right next to the enormous one. From there we went up a ramp into the Hypostyle Hall, which still has traces of colour in places. Medhat showed us the east wall here, which has a relief depicting a battle - this time not Kadesh, but Ramesses II and his army attacking a Hittite fort at Dapur. The army is shown scaling the walls of the fort with ladders, and you can see the defenders falling off. As well as the large depiction of the Pharaoh in his chariot there are other larger figures (not as big as him tho) who are his sons who led sections of the army - they are labelled with their names. The opposite wall also shows Ramesses II's sons, in a relief reminiscent of that at Luxor of them all processing. Again they are all labelled, and this time Merenptah (Ramesses II's eventual successor) has his name in a cartouche - added after his father's death. I also spent a while looking at the graffiti in this room - there's quite a variety of it, ranging from roughly scratched names to embellished, dated and carefully carved names. I didn't spot any ancient Egyptian graffiti in this temple tho.

Sons of Ramesses IIExcavation Shaft
Sons of Ramesses II (left), Excavation Shaft (right)

Next we got taken along by the guardian of the temple to look at a hole where excavations were happening. It just looked like a well shaft, but the rumour was that a mummy and grave goods had been discovered just days before our visit. Later, after we'd come home from Egypt, we read that it was probably (a rediscovery of?) the tomb of the God's Wife of Amun, Karomama, dating to the 22nd Dynasty. No mummy, but several shabti bearing her name. Still quite exciting to've seen, even if we didn't see anything :)

Looking Past the OutbuildingsRamesseum
Outbuildings (left), Hypostyle Hall (right)

After looking at that we were let loose to explore on our own a bit. There were outbuildings all around the temple which it would've been nice to have had a proper look at - they were mudbrick buildings that included storerooms for grain and such, as well as administrative buildings for the temple officials. But the equipment etc for the current exhibition was stored in some of them, so it was off limits to tourists. So we mostly wandered back through the temple taking pictures of it as the sun set - book ending our day rather well, as we'd started with sunrise in Karnak Temple :)

Sunset at the Ramesseum

At the beginning of July Charlotte Booth came to talk to us at the Essex Egyptology Group - she's actually the founder of the group, although she hadn't visited in the last few years (not since I've been in the group) as she'd moved away from the area. She talked to us about the Pharaoh Horemheb, who is often presented as a sort of afterthought to the 18th Dynasty. Booth's talk set out to show us that he is interesting in his own right, and is better thought of as the founder of the 19th Dynasty.

Horemheb was almost certainly born in Amenhotep III's reign. Booth explained that we can make an estimate of his year of birth by working backwards from what is known of his career. His status at the beginning of Tutankhamun's reign indicates that he must've been a mature adult at that point - perhaps around 30 years of age. That would make him 12 years old when Akhenaten took the throne. He was of middle class origins, and so Booth could tell us a little bit about the sort of childhood and adolescence he might've had. His education would've started at the age of 5, either at home or by attending a school. This phase of his schooling would last 4 years until he was 9 years old and at that point an Egyptian child would make a decision about what sort of career he would follow. I assume aptitude featured in the decision as well, although Booth didn't discuss that. As she pointed out, at 9 most of us in modern society haven't the faintest idea what we might really want to do for the rest of our lives! Horemheb chose to enter the army as an apprentice scribe. This apprenticeship would last for around 10-12 years, and the apprentice would move up the career ladder when his mentor (or father) died.

Army scribes were, of course, involved in all the routine bureaucracy and record keeping that an army requires - rotas, recruitment, organisation. And this is the sort of work that Horemheb probably spent most of his early career doing. Army scribes were also responsible for recording battles and the message sending and so on associated with campaigns - so the job wasn't necessarily a safe one. Unusually Horemheb also trained as a soldier, which was an even less safe or pleasant job - Booth read us part of a list of privations suffered by soldiers (written by an Ancient Egyptian who wanted to sway boys into becoming scribes rather than soldiers).

The army's primary role during Akhenaten's reign was being the bodyguards of the Pharaoh. In the stelae which talk about the foundation of Akhetaten (the city at modern day Amarna) Akhenaten makes reference to "evil things done" in Thebes as part of his rationale for moving the capital. Booth told us that these would include threats to the king's life, hence the need for lots of bodyguards. The army also did desert guard duty, and escort duty - so this was quite a boring time to be a soldier or an army scribe. In Year 5 of Akhenaten's reign Horemheb accompanied a mission to the quarries at Gebel el Silsila (we heard a talk on this site earlier this year), and the place must've made some sort of impression. Later when Horemheb was Pharaoh he founded a temple at Silsila (finished off by Ramesses II and Ramesses III) which includes a shrine to Horemheb among the other deities. Booth showed us a few pictures of it both inside and out, it's not in a very good state - in large part due to still being lived in until 1990(!).

What is known about Horemheb specifically or his personal life during this period is pretty slim. He may've used a different name during Akhenaten's reign than the one that we remember him by - Paatenemheb, which is similar in form to Horemheb but invokes the Aten rather than Horus. (It wasn't unusual in Egyptian society to change your name due to political or life changes.) He married at some point, but all that is known about his first wife Amenia is that she died relatively young and was buried in his tomb at Saqqara. That tomb was the one he originally intended to be buried in, before he became Pharaoh, and it is the source for a lot of his biographical information.

Horemheb must've been good at his job because when Tutankhamun became Pharaoh Horemheb not only kept his job but gained new and more exalted titles. He was promoted to be leader of the army, and was also given the title Deputy King. Booth told us that there is a reference to Horemheb being called in to calm the king down when he had got overly angry, which gives a sense of both his important status and his relationship to the Pharaoh Tutankhamun. He gained other royal administrative titles over the course of Tutankhamun's reign, and probably had a role in Tutankhamun's funeral pulling the sarcophagus along with other senior officials.

Given the number and importance of Horemheb's titles during Tutankhamun's reign (including Deputy King) you might've expected the succession when Tutankhamun died to be straightforward. However it is clear from the historical record that the next Pharaoh was Ay and not Horemheb. Ay was another important figure in Tutankhamun's court - he was the Vizier, amongst other titles. His succession is frequently presented as a sneaky coup against Horemheb, but Booth was clear that she thinks this can't've been the case. In part because Ay promptly names Horemheb as heir, and why would he do that if he stole the throne from him in the first place? It'd just be asking for trouble. And also because Horemheb was general of the whole army and so surely had the force necessary for a counter coup.

A further complication as far as the succession goes is a Hittite stela dating from a little bit later on that claims that Ankhesenamun (Tutankhamun's wife) had written a letter to the Hittite king. In this letter she apparently asked him to send her one of his sons so that she could marry him instead of "a servant", but unfortunately after the negotiations were successful the young man died on the way to Egypt. This could be taken to indicate that Ay secured the throne by marrying Ankhesenamun against her will, but as Booth points out it's much more likely that it's later Hittite propaganda intended to justify the ongoing war between the Hittites & Egypt. It's only known from this one, later, second-hand source. And the idea of a royal woman marrying out of Egypt had been stated in Amenhotep III's time to be unthinkable - royal women from elsewhere married in to Egypt, Egyptian royal women did not marry foreigners. On top of that, the Queen in question isn't even named. There is an argument that if it is true then it's more likely to've been Nefertiti after Akhenaten's death.

Charlotte Booth's theory about how the succession worked is that Ay and Horemheb were not rivals, instead they co-operated with each other to ensure a stable handover of power that would keep traditionalists happy as well as other factions in the court. Her theory hinges round the idea that as Tutankhamun's only surviving male relative Ay had a better claim to the throne than Horemheb, but that they made an agreement that Ay would adopt Horemheb as his heir due to being childless. And that Horemheb was happy with this arrangement because it suited his traditionalist nature, and Ay was pretty old so it wouldn't be a long delay. I'm not sure I entirely follow why this is plausible - Ay's relationship to Tutankhamun is unclear and it is probably via being a great-uncle on the maternal side, so I'm not sure that's a better claim than none at all. Certainly I don't think it would count as valid in the sorts of monarchies I know more about, but I don't know much about Pharaonic succession. I had also been under the impression that Ay had a son, Nahktmin, who didn't predecease Tutankhamun as he donated funerary goods to Tutankhamun's funeral. However that relationship is also a matter of conjecture by Egyptologists, so it may well not have counted at the time! :)

However it came about, Ay was Pharaoh for four years after Tutankhamun. He closely associated himself with Tutankhamun, referring to him as his father (clearly intended ideologically not literally as Ay was a good 40 years older than Tutankhamun!). He also continued the programme of dissociating the regime from Akhenaten's heresy. During Ay's reign he names Horemheb as his heir - which backs up the idea that they had some sort of agreement.

After Ay's death Horemheb buries him as if he were his father - in a similar fashion to Ay associating himself with Tutankhamun by a symbolic paternal relationship. Before his coronation Horemheb married his second wife - Mutnodjment, who was possibly the sister of Nefertiti. If this identification is correct, then she was the last surviving woman of the Amarna royal family (as Ankhesenamun vanishes from the historical record before this point). She was an unusual choice of wife for a childless man - she was 35 when they married, and in poor health since childhood (due to losing her teeth at an early age). However, although old by the standards of the time she may not've been too old to conceive, as she was buried with a still born child and her body showed signs of multiple childbirths. Booth said that by marrying her Horemheb prevented any other Egyptian from marrying and claiming a right to the throne via her. But Booth hoped that it might also have been for love, not just politics - Mutnodjmet was Horemheb's primary wife, not a political afterthought tucked away in the harem as a second choice. She was 50 when she died, perhaps in childbirth, and Horemheb had no surviving children. He buried her in his Memphite tomb alongside his first wife, Amenia.

Horemheb started his reign with several propaganda moves to present himself as man of the people who was concerned with the general population's interests. In terms of events there was his Royal Wedding and then his Coronation, both of which would involve days off work and free food & beer for the population. He also chose his five titles to reflect his intention to return Egypt to the golden age of Amenhotep III's time, and to complete the restoration of the old religion and build at Karnak. The Aten (Ahkenaten's god) was returned to being a local god and he was still worshipped at this time, the destruction of Atenism didn't start till later on. Although Horemheb later erased the Amarna period from his King Lists (i.e. the official succession went Amenhotep III -> Horemheb) he didn't do this until after Year 15, which was when Mutnodjmet died. His building work at Karnak took advantage of this reassignment of succession as he usurped much of Tutankhamun's building works. However some things were his idea - for instance he designed the Hypostyle Hall, even though he didn't live to see it built. Three of the pylons are also originally his - the second, ninth and tenth - each of which is filled with blocks from Akhenaten's building works, inadvertently preserving them for archaeologists.

Horemheb also carried out many reforms. One thing he did was entirely self-serving - he reorganised the army. It was split into two sections, each of which had its own general reporting directly to him. He recognised how much power he himself had gained by being in charge of the whole army and took steps to change that. Horemheb also reformed law & order. Booth explained that this is not just the rhetoric of "bringing order out of chaos" but that we actually have a document setting out the reforms he made. He reinstated punishments against corrupt officials, including those who over-taxed the population or extorted goods under pretence of taxation. He also made provision to reward those who did the right thing. He appointed priest as judges to enforce the law of Ma'at, and tried to make them unbribe-able giving them good salaries and granting them exemption from taxation. He tried to be involved in the running of the country - meeting with officials, rewarding them personally and keeping an eye on them.

One thing there wasn't much of in Horemheb's time as compared to other Pharaohs were battles and expeditions. There is a relief in the temple at Silsila which documents an expedition to the goldmines of Kush, but Booth said it probably didn't actually happen.

Horemheb remained childless until his death in 1293BC. He had chosen Ramesses I has his heir, and promoted him in a similar fashion to Horemheb's own pre-Pharaonic career. Ramesses I became both Vizier and Deputy King. When Horemheb died the succession was smooth and Ramesses I continued much of Horemheb's reform and building programme. One reason Ramesses I had been chosen was because he already had a family - his son would be Seti I and his grandson would be Ramesses II, and both were alive when Horemheb designated Ramesses I as heir.

It's not clear how long Horemheb reigned for - Booth explained that it could be anywhere from 12 years to 59 years depending on what sources you trust. She thinks the most plausible date is somewhere around Year 15 or 16 of his reign, because the wines in his tomb are vintages from Years 13, 14 and 15. Egyptian wine didn't last more than a couple of years, so if these were still the best wines then he must've died fairly soon after. I'm not sure what the 12 year date would be based on but the 59 year date would be the "official" count, started at the death of Amenhotep III and ignoring the inconvenient heretics.

Horemheb had two tombs. The first is in Saqqara, and was intended to be his tomb before he became Pharaoh. He didn't just abandon it, as he had uraeuses added to his images in the tomb and buried his wives there. However it wasn't suitable for a Pharaoh who must be buried in the Valley of the Kings. His tomb is KV57, and it was not finished before his death. Not only is the decoration incomplete but the workmen haven't even removed the detritus from the work they had done before he died. There were tracks through the debris where the sarcophagus had been dragged - it's as if the workmen barely left before the funeral procession arrived. Booth showed us some pictures of the fragments of grave goods that were found, and they are very reminiscent of Tutankhamun's assemblage. There was graffiti in the tomb when it was discovered that said that Horemheb's body had been moved to the tomb of Sethnahkte and Taweret, and it's possible that the coffin in which Ramesses II's body was found in the cache had originally belonged to Horemheb. Rather oddly when the Egyptians moved the bodies about and re-wrapped them in antiquity they did so in a production line fashion and each body ended up in the coffin of the previous one to be dealt with.

Horemheb's mortuary temple was originally Tutankhamun's - which had first been usurped by Ay before Horemheb. Unusually it was built of mudbrick, and so little survives today. His cult was maintained throughout the Ramesside period and he was worshipped at Deir el Medina alongside Amenhotep I and Ahmose-Nefertari. He was clearly viewed by the Ramesside dynasty as being the founder and father of their dynasty, and Booth finished by re-iterating that that's how we should view him now - not as an afterthought to the 18th Dynasty.

This was a fascinating talk, Charlotte Booth really brought to life this Pharaoh. I must confess I'd previously thought of him just as she was arguing against - a sort of coda to the Amarna period - but I'm now convinced he belongs more with his successors.

This is an index and summary of the things I've talked about over the last month. Links for multi-post subjects go to the first post (even if it's before this month), you can follow the internal navigation links from there.



The Rai-Kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg - fantasy with desert flavours, a slave who's more than he seems, and demons possessing souls. Part of Read All the Fiction, I only ever bought the first two books and these will be going to charity.

Total: 1


"Plantagenet England 1225-1360" Michael Prestwich. Part of the New Oxford History of England.

Total: 1


Gathering of the Clans.

Half the Man I Used to Be.

Head First.

Lord of All He Surveys.

Total: 4


Beowulf - In Our time episode about the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.

The Eunuch - In Our Time episode about eunuchs in Assyria, China and Rome.

Total: 2


"An Ancient Flash Flood and Stratigraphy in the Valley of the Kings" Stephen Cross - talk at the June meeting of the EEG.

Total: 1



Shakespeare's Mother: The Secret Life of a Tudor Woman - Michael Wood presenting a programme that was half a biography of Mary Arden and half general social history of the Tudor period.

Total: 1


Egypt Holiday 2014: Karnak Temple Complex.

Egypt Holiday 2014: Temple of Mut at Karnak.

Egypt Holiday 2014: Theban Tombs of the Nobles.

Total: 3

Tags: Admin


Subscribe to