June 2015

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

As I continue to (slowly!) read through the fiction on my shelves I've got to two books by Carol Berg - they are the first two of her trilogy The Rai-Kirah. The books are called Transformation and Revelation. I never bought the third one, and it's things like that that've made me taken on this project - did I not buy it because I didn't fancy it? Did I not buy it because I never got round to it? Should I buy it? It's definitely not the only series where I've got a couple then not the rest.

The protagonist of the story is Seyonne, an Ezzarian who has been a slave in the Derhzi Empire for 16 long and brutal years when the story opens. In the first chapter he is bought by the heir to the Empire, Prince Aleksander, branded on the orders of one of he Prince's companions (as a form of revenge on the Prince) and forced to brand said companion by the Prince. Aleksander is spoilt, cruel and doesn't see why he shouldn't destroy people when it takes his fancy. Seyonne once had magical powers before they were tortured out of him by the Derzhi, and the very fact of his slavery has made him outcast and unclean in the eyes of his own people - he's just going through the motions of life until he dies. It doesn't exactly seem like the start of a promising relationship - but there's more to Aleksander than meets the eye at first, and Seyonne is drawn into not only caring about the Prince but also joining forces with the Prince to save him & the world from the Rai-Kirah demons he was trained to fight in his homeland.

As I read the first book I was assuming that I hadn't finished buying the trilogy because I'd just forgotten to pick up the third book. The story sucked me in and carried me along. Whilst there were things I wasn't keen on when I finished it and thought about them, there were other parts I liked. The setting was interesting - not a faux-Europe, instead something with desert flavours. The Derzhi were once nomads in the desert, and this came through in the ways their empire was set up and how their aristocrats interacted. For instance, hospitality rules (sharing food and drink) are still important despite their change of lifestyle, which was plot relevant. I also found the magic interesting. The Rai-Kirah demons come through from another world and set up residence in human souls - the Ezzarians have learnt ways to enter the victim's soul and fight to drive out the demon. That was Seyonne's role in his society before his capture. I also like the relationship between Seyonne and Aleksander. I feel it did go too quickly from the very low point at which it started to trust and liking, even with the help of Seyonne's mystical sense that Aleksander is worth protecting. But still, I didn't notice that until I'd finished the book, if you see what I mean - I was hooked into it while I was reading it.

Sadly I didn't really buy any of the interpersonal relationships except the building friendship between Seyonne and Aleksander. Particularly not the relationships between Seyonne and the women in the novel. And that was one of my problems with the second book in the trilogy. I was much less keen on the series after reading it, and I am now intending to give these to charity rather than complete the series.

The second book takes what we know about the world so far, and makes us - and Seyonne - doubt it. Are the Rai-Kirah really just rapacious demons trying to conquer the world? Where did the Ezzarian's abilities come from? And why is Seyonne's heavily pregnant wife now not pregnant and pretending she never was? This last is the driving force of the plot for the beginning of the book, which was a shame as it made me cranky every time that bit of the plot came up. I didn't buy into Seyonne and Ysanne's relationship, their utter lack of trust in each other and inability to just have an honest conversation made me unable to believe they'd ever been in love ever. And yes, it's not supposed to be idyllic (far from it), and Seyonne is supposed to be being an idiot, and Ysanne isn't supposed to have his best interests at heart and I don't think she's supposed to've been in love with him. But even knowing all of that didn't make me any more interested in reading about it. And having spent the first few chapters gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes at the characters I wasn't inclined to be charitable about the rest of it. I suspect if that plot line hadn't existed I'd've enjoyed the rest rather more, but it does exist.

Another problem I had with both the books was the sheer level of physical & mental abuse that Seyonne absorbs. I'm not sure I believe that he could be either alive or sane by the beginning of book 1 (given the backstory we see later) ... and certainly not by the time that Berg has finished gleefully torturing him over the two books I read.

So my overall verdict is that Berg has some interesting world building and ideas, but ultimately I found the execution too flawed.

I must confess, I've been dreading writing about the various tombs we visited while in Egypt. My memories of the New Kingdom tombs blur together much more than my memories of the various temples and pyramids. And we got less of a guided tour of any of them - sometimes Medhat pointed out some interesting features, sometimes I went through the tomb with someone who knew what they were looking at, but mostly I was looking at the spectacular art as a broad sweep rather than picking up on interesting details. So I'm grouping them into three posts main posts - non-Royal, Kings and Queens - and discussing them in brief and en masse. This post will cover the tombs of the Nobles that we visited on the West Bank of Thebes (the other non-Royal tombs we visited will be talked about along with the site to which they're attached).

Theban Tombs of Nobles (First Set)

Coming Out of the Nobles Tombs
View from the Tombs

The first tombs we visited on the West Bank were those of Rekhmire (TT100), Sennefer (TT96), Userhat (TT56), Khaemhat (TT57) and Ramose (TT55). These are all nobles who lived during the 18th Dynasty. Rekhmire, Sennefer and Userhat were alive during the reigns of Tutmosis III or Amenhotep II; Khaemhat and Ramose lived towards the end of Amenhotep III's reign (and Ramose lived into Akhenaten's reign).

Rekhmire's tomb is very simple in design - it is T shaped, you enter in the middle of the crossbar looking down a long corridor with a corridor to each side. My main recollection of the scenes in here are those on the main corridor that showed not just the funeral itself but also the making of the funerary goods. This included carving large statues and smelting metal. There was also a scene of Rekhmire in his role as Vizier receiving tribute from foreigners on behalf of the Pharaoh - the tribute included a very fine looking giraffe with a monkey climbing up its neck.

Our next tomb here was the tomb of Sennefer who was Mayor of Thebes and Overseer of the Garden of Amun during Amenhotep II's reign. It's a very different shape to that of Rekhmire's - you go down a staircase and then there are two small chambers one after the other - so small that we had to go in in batches rather than all at once. There's glass up over the wall decoration which obscures it a bit, which is a shame but I assume it stops it being damaged by tourists. The thing that really stuck in my head from this tomb was the ceiling - one of the chambers has abstract patterns plus some text, and the other one is decorated with vines heavy with grapes.

We came to Userhat and Khaemhat's tombs as a pair, but actually they aren't really related they're just close together. Userhat also lived in Amenhotep II's reign and was the Scribe Who Counts Bread in Upper and Lower Egypt (which I think is an awesome title, and as Kent Weeks points out in his Luxor guidebook it really gives a flavour of the micro-managed bureaucracy of the New Kingdom). The decoration in here wasn't in as good nick as the decoration in the first two tombs. The scene I particularly paid attention to here was one of barbering - Dylan pointed out that this was new recruits to the army lining up to get their short back & sides (shaved heads, in actuality) now they were soldiers! Khaemhat's tomb was from a slightly later date than the first three in this set - he was the Overseer of the Granaries of Uppar and Lower Egypt, and Royal Scribe, during Amenhotep III's reign (and early in Akhenaten's reign). His tomb has lost most of its paint - due in large part to people living in there, then early cleaning attempts using soap & a scrubbing brush! However unlike the first three we visited it hadn't been painted directly onto the walls, the scenes had first been carved in relief. I remember least about this tomb, I think with nothing standing out to mention.

The last of this afternoon's tombs was that of Ramose, which is very fine. He was a prominent nobleman during the end of Amenhotep III's reign and the start of Akhenaten's, holding many important titles. The main chamber we saw in this tomb (there is more that we couldn't get access to) was pretty large - startlingly so in comparison to the other tombs. As with Khaemhat's tomb much of the decoration in here is not just painted but also carved - and is in much better condition than Khaemhat's tomb was. There were two particularly memorable sections in this tomb for me. The first of these was one of the relief sections which depicts Ramose's funeral feast. The carving here is very beautiful and intricate, some of the highest quality carving we saw in the trip. It presumably was intended to be painted, but wasn't finished - the only colour added is to outline the eyes which gives the figures a very striking look. The other memorable scene was on the opposite wall and is in the "new style" of Akhenaten's reign - it dates from a point when Akhenaten is changing the art style and religion but is still using his original name of Amenhotep IV. A little snapshot of a very specific moment in time.

Theban Tombs of Nobles (Second Set)

The following day was another day spent on the West Bank and amongst many other things (which I'll talk about in separate posts) we visited the tombs of Roy, Shuroy and Amenemopet. These three are of a slightly later period than the first five we visited - dating to the 19th Dynasty rather than the 18th. Roy and Shuroy's tombs were both pretty small, certainly far too small for us all to go in at once. J and I were in separate groups and I think he did the two tombs in a better order - Shuroy first then Roy. The decoration in Shuroy's tomb is much less well done and sadly hasn't particularly stuck in my mind at all. Roy's tomb decoration was better executed and even tho there has been a lot of damage there is still a lot to see. The bit that I particularly noticed in there was the Weighing of the Heart scene, which had two hearts on one side of the scale balancing two Ma'ats on the other - rather than the more usual one of each. This was to represent both Roy and his wife, who were both buried there.

The last of the set we visited on this day was the tomb of Amenemopet, which was only recently opened to the public. The guidebook I'm getting my historical details from doesn't talk about this one, so I'm reliant entirely on my notes here! As I remember it there was much less decoration present in this tomb, and what was notable were the statues and the sarcophagus. The tomb itself was T-shaped and there were large ruined statues of Amenemopet and his wife at each corridor end. The damage to them was caused by flooding which dissolved away some of the limestone. The sarcophagus was sat in the middle of the main corridor, which seemed a strange place. In fact it had been in another chamber further in (not open to the public) and the original discoverer of the tomb had started to have it dragged out (as a souvenir or for his museum, I guess). However it turned out to be too much hassle to move it, and so it was abandoned in the corridor.

Tags: egypt, egypt 2014

The epic poem Beowulf is probably the best known piece of Anglo-Saxon literature - it's certainly one I was aware of, and had an idea of the shape of the story before we listened to the In Our Time episode about it. However it was unknown until the 19th Century when a single manuscript copy dating from around 1100AD was discovered. The three experts who discussed it on the programme were Laura Ashe (University of Oxford), Clare Lees (King's College London) and Andy Orchard (University of Oxford).

Even tho the surviving version of the poem comes from the 11th or 12 Century, it was probably composed around 750AD. It's sometimes said to be a little earlier: "from the time of Bede" (who died in 735AD). But Orchard pointed out that Bede is known person from a known time so estimates tend to gravitate towards him. The subject of the poem is older still - it's a poem about long ago & far away about history that the listeners were expected to already be aware of. Some of the characters in the poem are real historical personages who lived around the 5th Century AD (however this doesn't include the hero Beowulf). This is a Christian English poem about the listeners' pagan Danish ancestors, written in a time before the Danes were seen as a foreign threat.

There are three sections to the poem. The first tells of the hero Beowulf travelling to another kingdom and fighting the monster Grendel, who has been terrorising the country. Grendel is a misshapen man who fights without a sword and so Beowulf wrestles with him and wins the fight by pulling off the monster's arm. Said arm is then hung up as a trophy when Beowulf returns to the king of the country. The second section tells us about Grendel's mother who comes to avenge her son, as is her legal right. She lives beneath the sea and Beowulf goes to her lair (or hall) to fight her with a sword. The third section of the poem is set 50 years later, when Beowulf is an old man and has become a king in his own right. The story of how he came to be king is told in flashbacks, while the main plot of this section revolves around him fighting a dragon which is terrorising his country. Unlike the first two monsters this is a truely mythological beast instead of fantastical but plausible. Beowulf goes to fight it in its lair, and at first is losing the fight despite his heroic skill. With the help of his men, and using a sword from the dragon's lair, he finally defeats the dragon but dies in his moment of triumph.

The poem has a very non-linear structure, and after its rediscovery 19th Century critics used the repetition as an example of how it was a poor poem. Modern scholarship strongly disagrees with that opinion! The narrative circles around the story with each repetition of an event giving you new details or nuances, or new references to other literature etc. For instance in the first part the poem first tells one about the fight, then Beowulf tells someone about the fight, then Beowulf tells the king of the country Grendel was terrorising and then Beowulf tells his own king. All have differences that tell you more about the event. This isn't the only sort of non-linearity - there are also flashbacks (for instance in the third section as I mentioned above), and asides that tell you how some side-event turned out later. Or who owned a particular sword once the current owner died after the end of this story, and so on.

The poem was written to be heard rather than read. The experts read out sections in the original Anglo-Saxon, with Orchard in particular making it sound vibrant and alive (even if incomprehensible - I didn't get very far the one time I started learning Anglo-Saxon). However it probably wasn't an oral composition, instead it was written down with the intention that it should be read out. It is a very literate poem, with references to other literature of the period and before including classic Latin literature. Orchard pointed out parallels with things like the Aeneid, which the Anglo-Saxons of the 8th Century AD would've known.

It wasn't just a story about heroes and monsters, and tales of derring do. The peom was also about the ending of one era and the beginning of the next. It tells the story of the pagan Beowulf from a Christian perspective, and contains Christian motifs and structural elements. Most obviously the three-part structure which is more of a Christian motif than a pagan one. And the narrative moralises about the actions of the protagonists - a running commentary of "that's how it was then, but we know better now". The pagan culture valued valour & honour, but the Christian one valued non-violence and godliness. The poem reflects that change and the tension between the old ways and the new.

I think the biggest thing this programme told me was how much more there is to Beowulf than I'd realised. I'm pretty sure we have a translation in the house (somewhere!), I should find it and read it sometime :)

On Sunday Stephen Cross came to the Essex Egyptology Group to talk to us about his work in the Valley of the Kings. The research he was telling us about was started to answer one question: why was Tutankhamun's tomb (KV62) discovered intact? Nearly every other tomb discovered in the Valley of the Kings was robbed, so what was different about Tutankhamun's tomb. He immediately ruled out man-made causes - if the ancient Egyptians had figured out a certain way to prevent robbers getting in then they would've done it to all the subsequent tombs too.

Of the potential natural causes a flash flood seemed the best candidate and so he investigated the geology of the Valley around KV62. What he found was that when he mapped the routes that flooding took through the Valley three different streams of water collided outside KV62. This creates the right conditions for the sediment that the water is carrying to be deposited in the area. When water is moving at speed it can carry along quite a lot of pieces of rock etc, but when the water stream loses speed the rocks and sediment are left behind. Three streams colliding will dramatically reduce the speed that the water in those streams is moving, hence depositing the sediment.

This theory is backed up by the archaeological evidence. Some of this comes from the discovery of KV55 in 1907. Whilst this tomb was not discovered intact when excavated the original entrance was underneath a layer of sediment that was cemented together by water - i.e. the sediment dumped by a flash flood. There is also evidence from Carter's excavation of KV62. A photograph shortly before the tomb was discovered shows the area that we now know was above the entrance - and a flood layer is visible. Another photo taken after the tomb was discovered also shows this layer. As an aside at this point in the talk Cross told us about a photo he'd been given by the Griffith Institute which was indexed as the entrance to KV62 during the excavation. However when he & Dylan Bickerstaffe had a closer look at it it became clear that it wasn't the right doorway - it turned out to be from an excavation of a completely different tomb in the West Valley that had somehow got mixed up with the KV62 photographs! The flood layer also covers over KV63 - this recently discovered "tomb" is probably an embalmers cache. It is in the same part of the Kings' Valley as KV62 & KV55, and there is evidence that it dates to the same time period as those two (Amarna era).

Having established that a flash flood covered up Tutankhamun's tomb and prevented extensive robbing Cross's next question is when that flood occurred. In the photo of the spot where the entrance to KV62 was discovered are some workmen's huts* built on top of the flood layer. After discovering KV62 and while waiting for Canarvon to arrive Carter excavated these huts and those nearby which link up with others further round the Valley. The huts are 18th Dynasty in style. In the 19th Dynasty the huts were better built and were intended to be re-used (a necessity when you're burying as many people as all of the many sons of Ramesses II who are in tomb KV5). As these huts are on top of the flood layer if we can establish which 18th Dynasty Pharaoh's burial they were in use during then we can put an upper bound on the time of the flooding. Clearly these are not the huts used for Tutankhamun's burial, as the entrance to his tomb was underneath them. They are equally unlikely to've been used for Ay's burial as he was buried in the West Valley and his workmen's huts would be there. So that only leave Horemheb as a candidate, and indicates the flooding is likely to've taken place during Ay's reign - a 5 year period.

*Workmen's huts came up a couple of times later in the talk, and during the question session at the end. The name is a bit misleading, it's just what the first archaeologists to describe the structures called them and the name has stuck. They don't have doors, and are far too small for someone to sleep in. So they are unlikely to be places for workmen to live instead they are better described as storage bins for the precious materials used in the construction and decoration of the the tombs. Generally there are guard huts (bigger, with doors) near the clusters of "workmen's huts" which does indicate their contents were important.

That's already a pretty narrow time span for estimating the date of a flood around 3,500 years ago but Cross then went on to explain that he feels it can be narrowed down even further. KV62 is said to've been discovered "intact", but this is not entirely true. It had been broken into (through the entrance) in antiquity and a small amount of stuff stolen - but the robbers must've been disturbed before they could make off with much and the tomb was resealed still almost entirely complete. Cross thinks that the reason no-one came back to do a better job at clearing out the tomb later was that the flood had happened and covered the entrance with 3 feet of cemented debris - probably an insurmountable obstacle for a prospective robber to get through (particularly as it would've disguised where precisely the entrance was).

So how quickly after burial did the robbery of Tutankhamun's tomb happen? Cross explained two strands of evidence that suggest it was close to immediately after the tomb was sealed up in the first place. The first is to do with the nature of the items stolen which were oils & animal fats. In the heat of the tomb these would've gone off quickly and become worthless so the robbery must've happened fairly soon after the tomb was sealed.

This is backed up by evidence from the seals used on the door of the tomb. When the tomb was initially sealed the door was covered in plaster and there were seal impressions placed all over it so that you could see if it had been damaged and re-plastered. These seal impression come in 7 different sorts (designated A-G by Carter), and all of them have Tutankhamun's name on them in some form. This isn't what one might expect at first thought - after all, Tutankhamun is dead at this point. Cross thinks this means that Tutankhamun (or any other Pharaoh) was regarded as being the reigning king right up until the very end of the burial process. Since the tomb was broken into the plaster on the door had been broken and the damaged part subsequently re-plastered. The new plaster was covered in seal impressions just as the original plaster was but these seals are all of a different type - designated Type H by Carter. This seal is very similar to the Type E seal of the original set, with the key difference that there is no Pharaohs name to be found on it. Cross believes this means the seal was used between the end of Tutankhamun's burial and Ay's coronation, which would be a 2 week period. And then the flood probably happened shortly after that.

Cross next explained that he thinks we can tell who it was who was actually wielding the Type H seal all those millenia ago! My notes are sadly a bit confused for this part of the talk but I think the explanation was as follows: there is a piece of graffiti in a jar stand in the annexe of KV62 (left by the re-sealer) which is in the same handwriting as the famous piece of graffiti in Tutmosis IV's tomb. The one in Tutmosis IV's tomb names two different officials - it says the senior one, Maya, was ordered by Horemheb to restore the tomb. The junior one, Djehutymose is just named as his assistant. It has often been assumed that Maya wrote the graffiti, but Cross points out that there are factual errors in it that Maya wouldn't make (and would've corrected had he been present). The graffiti names Maya as son of the noble Iawy and the Lady of the House Weret, and Djehutymose as the son of Hatiay and Iniuhe. Djehutymose's parents are correct, but other records show that Weret wasn't Maya's mother but instead his second wife. Which is really not a mistake that Maya would make, but his assistant might well not know the parentage of his boss and just guess at a woman's name he knows is associated with the family. So it seems reasonable to assume that Djehutymose was the man who looked after the restoration of Tutmosis IV's tomb and did the resealing of Tutankhamun's tomb after its robbery.

After our coffee break the second part of Cross's talk was about how his work fits more generally into excavating and understanding the Valley of the Kings. One thing he talked about that I hadn't thought about before is that the Valley was altered by the Pharaohs, landscaped so's to speak. For instance when looking at the stratigraphy above Tutankhamun's tomb (and the rest of that area) there are two more distinctive layers above the flood layer. These were man-made. Seti I had the floor of the Valley levelled out using the debris from his tomb - Cross speculated this was to make it easier to move in the alabaster coffin. And Ramesses II also had the Valley floor raised to the level of his tomb and of KV5. Which actually probably caused the water damage to his & his sons' tombs - if the Valley floor had still been at the natural level (or at least Seti I's level) the water would've rushed right past below the tomb entrances.

Some of the most exciting work he's involved in is the search for new tombs. There is quite a big gap between where KV63 is and KV55, the whole of which area is covered by the same flood layer. So there is a possibility of another tomb buried under that layer! He was involved in an excavation that took place right next to KV63, which sadly didn't find any signs of a tomb. It had been thought that the previous excavation in that site hadn't gone right down to the bedrock, but it seems it had done. There are still other parts of this area to investigate and there are some tantalising hints that one of them has something interesting. The geo-physical scan done in 1999/2000 could only obtain readings down to 2m and as bedrock is 5m down in this region this wasn't actually good enough to detect if there were tombs or not. Another scan has been done with more modern equipment that has shown signs of an artificially levelled region of bedrock (like that round KV62) and hints of a passageway under the bedrock level near there. So that's potentially very exciting indeed, but it hasn't yet been worked on.

Cross speculated a bit about whose tomb it could be (if it is indeed a tomb). Any tomb under that flood layer must be late 18th Dynasty at the latest, and the other tombs at that level in that area are all Amarna period burials. These were either original to the Kings' Valley (KV62 and KV63) or moved from Amarna (KV55). In the original Royal Tomb at Amarna there is evidence that there were 5 people buried in the tomb - Cross says these were probably Akhenaten, his mother Tiye, his wife Nefertiti and two princesses (Bekhetaten and Meritaten). He says there are candidates for the bodies of Akhenaten, Tiye and Nefertiti found in tombs in the Valley of the Kings, which leaves Bekhetaten and Meritaten yet to be found - and possibly the occupants of this potential tomb.

As well as this work in the central area of the Valley, Cross has identified another area in the Valley where two water streams collide. This is also a potential place where flooding could've concealed tomb entrances, and so he's hoping to get it scanned with more modern equipment as well.

This was a fascinating talk, which told me all sorts of things about the Valley of the Kings and Tutankhamun's tomb which were new to me. With very interesting speculation at the end about where undiscovered (and potentially undisturbed) tombs might be!

Sacred Lake
Sacred Lake at the Temple of Mut, with Karnak in the background

After visiting the main part of the Karnak Temple complex we returned to the coach briefly to go to the Temple of Mut. This is actually a part of the Karnak complex but it's not possible to walk between the two sites (and it's a different ticket). Hence the short coach ride. We were dropped off on the Avenue of Sphinxes that leads towards Luxor Temple and walked to the Temple of Mut. The goddess to whom this temple is dedicated was the consort of Amun and so one of the main three deities of the Karnak Temple complex. My photos are on flickr, click here for the full set or on any photo for the larger version of it.

plan of the Temple of Mut
Plan of the Temple of Mut
Made by wikipedia user Markh

This temple has only recently been opened to the public, and although there has been some restoration there's not very much of the buildings standing. The effect is of a series of courtyards surrounded by low walls, with fragments of statuary and masonry set out in rows (and some of them under an awning to protect the colour from fading. Many of the statue pieces are from statues of Sekhmet as this temple is one of the places where large numbers of Sekhmet statues come from. Chances are if you've seen any Egyptian stuff in a museum then you've seen at least one Sekhmet statue that comes from either the Temple of Mut or Amenhotep III's Mortuary Temple. Even Ipswich Museum has one!

Temple of MutTemple of Mut
Relief of Circumcision (left), Temple of Mut (right)

Medhat showed us first to what remains of the Mammisi. The reliefs in this area (as is usual) are of the Pharaoh's divine conception, birth and early childhood. Those that are left include a very clear circumcision scene, and the base of another polite conception scene like the one we saw in Luxor Temple. We then walked through the rest of the temple, pausing to look at the Sekhmet fragments. There were also two colossal statues that had been restored to something of their former glory. One Sekhmet and one of a Pharaoh.

Sekhmet StatueSekhmet Fragments
Sekhmet Statues, Restored (left) and Fragmentary (right)

Next we looked at some of the fragments of stone that were under the awning at the back of the temple before walking round the sacred lake. The path took us past another temple building on the west of the site. This was built by Ramesses III and as with the rest of the site not much survives - we looked at some of the reliefs on the western side as we walked past. The sacred lake is an unusual shape - a crescent rather than a rectangle. The path that has been created for tourists to walk round has a seat under some trees on the south eastern end of it - a pleasant spot to sit for a while after our morning walking round Karnak :)

Ramesses III TempleSacred LakeRamesses III Temple, close by (left) and across the Sacred Lake (right)

After leaving the site proper we had a bit of a look around the various sections of the Avenue of the Sphinxes that are nearby. Directly north of the Temple of Mut is a section of avenue that leads to the main Karnak site - we walked up there nearly to the end and looked at the Tenth Pylon at Karnak from the outside, having seen it from the inside earlier on in the morning.

Avenue of Sphinxes
Tenth Pylon at Karnak, from the Outside

I'm into the home straight with this book - and actually finished reading it a while ago, I've just got a backlog of posts to write :) This is the penultimate chapter, all that's left after this is the conclusion.

Population and the Black Death

The overall picture of population changes in England between 1225 and 1360 is first growth in the 13th Century, followed by a plateau in the early 14th Century and a catastrophic decrease caused by the Black Death in 1348. However despite this clear big picture the details are more difficult to get a proper grasp of, and so Prestwich spent the first half of this chapter looking at the sorts of evidence used to assess the population and discussing the sorts of numbers these indicate.

The population of a region is affected by three things - birth rate, death rate and migration - and Prestwich looks at these in turn. There's very little evidence for what the birth rate in England was during this period - births were not required to be recorded. And it is difficult to make generalisations from what data there is because birth rates vary within populations & across time. There is some evidence that people tried to control the size of their families (via herbal concoctions or coitus interuptus) despite the disapproval of the Church. However a lack of understanding of reproductive biology & the female anatomy meant that this was difficult to do successfully. Prestwich notes that there is very little evidence for abortion (or attempted abortion), nor for infanticide. Death rates were affected by environmental causes like famines, and also by economic circumstances. Prestwich suggests that the growth in the 13th Century may've lead to the population outstripping the ability of the cultivatable land to feed it, leading to the plateau in the early 14th Century. Migration to and from England had little effect on the overall population, however internal migration had a large effect on the population of particular towns etc.

Prestwich next works through a couple of examples of starting assumptions and hypotheses to arrive at some estimates for the overall population at the peak at end of the 13th Century. All the methods of calculating the population have their own problems, and the margins of error are huge. However Prestwich suggests figures of between 4 million and 7 million, with 5 million being a plausible number to keep in mind. This is about two to three times the population at the end of the 11th Century (which one can estimate using the Domesday Book as a starting point). For a couple of modern comparisons: the modern population of Scotland is of the order of 5 milliion people, in contrast the population of London in 2013 (according to wikipedia) was on the order of 8.5 million.

On a more local level there are sometimes surviving records that give a better indication of population levels in a particular community - but historians disagree about how reliable these are (and how to extrapolate from what's there). For instance manorial court records survive for some areas - like Coltishall in Norfolk where numbers of tenants can be calculated: 119 in 1314, 168 in 1349 and 74 in 1359. That doesn't tell you how big their families were but it does suggest a rising population which then falls sharply after the Black Death. Prestwich goes through a few examples of the types of records that survive and what they can tell us. He also discusses the indirect evidence that can be used - like how much land is in cultivation (more suggests more people need fed). Or how much tax was returned from a community.

The second half of the chapter discusses the Black Death. This was probably the biggest human catastrophe ever to affect England - up to half the population died. It is generally said that the Black Death was an epidemic of Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague), and I had thought this was a known thing. However Prestwich devotes three or so pages to discussing the problems with this identification and what alternatives there may be. The argument against bubonic plague being the Black Death is that the symptoms & fatality levels as well as the spread speed & pattern of the disease do not match that seen in more modern outbreaks where we have much more accurate information. The usual answer to this is that the bacillus has mutated significantly since the 14th Century, and thus the disease we see now is not the disease they suffered. Prestwich is very keen to point out that this is just a hypothesis, and other explanations should not be dismissed out of hand. He doesn't, however, have a favoured answer - he lists three possibilities (anthrax, influenza, a viral haemorrhagic disease) but also explains why they are implausible.

The epidemic, whatever it was, arrived on English soil sometime in June 1348 at the port of Melcombe Regis in Dorset. By November it had reached London, and in 1349 it spread throughout the country. Mortality was highest during the late spring & early summer of 1349. Death rates can be estimated using the surviving records although these generally do not list cause of death so some interpretation is needed to arrive at figures. Although perhaps as much as half the overall population died this was not evenly spread through society. The higher aristocracy were much less affected with only one member of the royal family dying in the outbreak, and only 13% of the parliamentary peerage in 1349. Clergy were more affected than this - with figures ranging from 29% to 60% in different areas. Those who resided with their congregations were more affected than those who did not. Mortality among monastic communities was very variable with some being nearly wiped out and others barely affected. Mortality amongst the rural population was much the same as for the clergy who resided amongst them (unsurprisingly). Data for the urban population is much more incomplete but one might assume it would be higher than in rural areas due to the greater numbers of people in close proximity. There are indications such as numbers of wills registered compared to a normal year or how many tax payers are recorded that back up this assumption.

The immediate effects of this huge loss of life on the economy & on government are surprisingly limited. The greater amount of available land (due to deaths of the tenants) and the death toll combined to reduce the number of landless labourers available to work did exert pressure to raise wages for labourers - and similarly for other professions in urban areas. However the government acted to freeze wages to pre-Black Death levels, and the long term economic effects of the population drop don't show up till after 1360 when these measures began to fail. The mechanics of government and law & order also show surprising resiliance - the effects that show up in the period this book covers are primarily in low tax revenues and greater difficulty fielding large armies. The effects on the Church were greater. With so many dead clergy there weren't as many truly appropriate candidates as needed to fill the vacancies. However again there was no danger of a collapse of the system. Society in general was also very resilient. There must surely have been an effect on the general population of seeing half the population die in such a short space of time, but Prestwich says it's difficult to detect in the contemporary sources.

Prestwich finishes the chapter by reminding us that longer term effects were much greater - transforming society during the 15th & 16th Centuries.