Journal: Wednesday 27 January 2010
Sam was feeling a little better this morning but we both felt rather lazy after our long excursion yesterday to the Wadi Hammamat. The morning brought more clouds racing in the wind which was coming straight from the south and in Luxor this is often a sign of peculiar weather on the way. We decided to drive over to the West Bank again and opted for an easy day at Medinet Habu.
We arrived at the Temple of Rameses III in the late morning and I was astonished at the number of people there, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so busy. Not so many years ago Habu Temple was rarely visited by tourists and was always a lovely peaceful place to be, but today there were five large tourist coaches in the car park, a handful of minibuses and several taxis. It was with trepidation we entered the temple.
Sam went inside into the crowded first court, but I decided to walk right around the outside walls and take pictures of the calendars and the battle scenes of Rameses III where he documents his campaigns in two Libyan wars and his battles against the ‘Sea Peoples’. The battle scenes on the north wall are best photographed very early in the morning because after 9.00am they are in shadow and don’t show up very well. The war reliefs begin on the back outer wall of the temple and progress down the north wall.
Rameses’ first battle with the Libyans began in Year 5 of his reign. By this time the Libyans, troublesome for many years, had accepted a new leader of the Temeh tribe appointed by the Egyptians, but had secretly formed alliances with the tribes of Meshwesh, Seped and Libu in order to advance on Egypt and gain more land. The Egyptian army was mobilised to put an end to the incursions, and the result is carved on the walls in gory relief. Some of these scenes are also depicted in the first and second courts. The victories of Rameses in this war are represented by the number of hands and genitals cut from the slain armies – the traditional way of counting the dead.
The next military campaign occurred three years later, this time against the enigmatic ‘Sea Peoples’, a displaced group of raiders who over many centuries had fought sea battles in the eastern Mediterranean in an attempt to gain land. On the north wall we see Rameses equipping his army for battle in Year 8. In a two-pronged attack Rameses fought the Sea Peoples both at sea and on land, trapping his enemy at the mouth of the Nile with a fleet built especially for the purpose. The raiders were defeated in an ambush, and in the reliefs we see ships capsized and men drowning. Meanwhile the land forces were defeated as they crossed the northern border into Egypt and several of their chiefs captured. We can see the distinctive dress of the Sea Peoples with wide headdresses and striped kilts. In the land battle the enemy brought their women and children and they are depicted cowering behind ox-carts. In another scene the victory is celebrated at the ‘Migdol of Rameses III’, identified as a settlement near the eastern mouth of the Delta. Finally, Rameses III presents his foreign captives to the gods, the Theban Triad.
Three years later, in Year 11, Rameses was again at war. This was the second Libyan war, an attempt to put an end to the Meshwesh and Libu tribes who had occupied a large area of land in the western Delta. This war was fought in the desert regions of the Libyan borders and we see Rameses III in his horse-drawn chariot, bow and arrow poised for another victory. Again there was an ambush and the leader of the Meshwesh, Meshesher, was captured after a gruesome chase through the desert. A delegation led by Meshesher’s father, Keper, was sent to discuss terms and a peace was arrived at where Rameses settled the Libyan survivors in strongholds and they were forced to serve in the Egyptian military. This campaign, documented on the outer wall of the first court, lists the number of men killed and the captives which include women, children and animals with which the Libyan tribes had hoped to settle.
Great victories for Rameses III. The Libyans were once more contained, but the king was not to know that the descendants of these tribes would eventually rise up again and finally rule all Egypt.
It had taken me a couple of hours to photograph each scene on the outer walls and though the contrast was very low I felt I had made my best attempt. By the time I actually went into the temple, the crowds had gone, leaving only a scattering of people wandering around. Where the cloudy sky and shadowed north wall had hampered my photography, in the first and second courts this was a bonus because the dark shadows of the columns invariably present on the inner walls were gone, leaving the painted scenes flat and easier to photograph.
When the temple closed at 5.00pm, Sam and I went over to the Rameses Cafe for a drink and something to eat. Sam had a tagen and I had a pizza which I mostly fed to one of the pregnant cats that always seem to be around here. The Rababa man was there, an elderly galabeya-clad, turbaned Egyptian who sits at a table and plays his stringed instrument to anyone who will listen and occasionally breaks out into song. This man has been a permanent fixture in the Rameses Cafe for at least fifteen years, but never looks a day older. We also finally met our friend Salah, who we hadn’t yet seen on this trip. He was with a party of German ladies but came over to say hello and we had a brief chat. Once more the sun was setting as we drove back to Luxor, with the deep purple hue of the Theban mountain behind us.