The Warrior Pharaohs and Pharaohs of the Sun

EmpiresSuggested by Brad Nelson • Episode One of Season Six of Empires covers the history of The New Kingdom in Egypt via following the fortunes and motives of various major pharaohs.
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6 Responses to The Warrior Pharaohs and Pharaohs of the Sun

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This was an interesting episode (two episodes in one if you buy via Amazon) in comparison to the general quality of documentaries about Egypt. It covers some interesting territory, especially including:

    1) The rise of the New Kingdom via the grudge of two avenging brothers (Kamose and Ahmosis who re-took north Egypt from the Hyksos).

    2) The extension of this empire by Amenhotep I, Thutmose I, and others to deep inside Nubia and parts of the Levant.

    3) The odd and sudden shift to a type of monotheism by Akhenaten who dismissed all but Aten, the sun god (apart from Ra who was another sun god…it gets confusing) and up and built a new capital.

    Mainly this is a talking-heads documentary that shuttles between about four different experts who talk about the subject at hand, but who often are merely an interruption of the flow of the story (particularly that ubiquitous Egyptian official).

    Also, if you’re looking to find out what it was like to live in Egypt at the time — whether as a commoner or a Pharaoh — you can forget about it. This documentary contains very few day-to-day details of what they ate, where they slept, how they farmed, or how they did much of anything else. It’s all about the Pharaoh. Imagine trying to describe to people of a future time what it was like to live as an average American by describing Obama. Same problem. There is a Pharaoh fixation. And some of them were indeed interesting, but when you’ve seen one narcissist who thinks he’s god, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

    Still, the story of the rebirth of The New Kingdom is very interesting. The kingdom, proper, had shrunk. It was caught between the Hyksos of the north and the Nubians in the south. The documentary says that two Egyptian princes, Kamose and Ahmosis, in order to avenge their father and restore Egyptian greatness, decided to re-conquer the north. But life apparently was good and it wasn’t an easy sell to get people to give up their bountiful harvests and easy lives to go fight. But then one of the brothers’ spies intercepted (apparently…who knows if this was mere invented pretext) a message from the Hyksos to the Nubians that basically said, “Hey, let’s split up what’s left of the Egyptian Kingdom.”

    This rallied the kingdom into action. The north was retaken and the Nubians were (by later pharaohs) conquered up to the sixth cataract. Most importantly, Egypt controlled the vast gold mines of Nubia.

    It was particularly interesting to learn about the “Progressive” pharaoh, Akhenaten. He’s an Obama-like figure who threw away all tradition (even up to an including inculcating new forms of art) and aimed to “fundamentally transform” Egypt. And he did for a time. He closed the temples of Amun (whose priests were nearly as powerful as the pharaoh because of their wealth) and moved the capital to a new city he constructed in a blank spot in the desert. Talk about hope and change.

    This was a more or less benign transformation until his wife, Nefertiti, one of his children, and some others died. He then turned into a more Henry VIII character and tried to squash all dissent from the worship of the only god he would allow — Aten.

    And then they all played a sort of musical chairs with the chisel. Akhenaten had the names of other gods chiseled away. And after he died, and Amun and the other traditional gods (and temples) were restored, they all have a chisel-fest at Akhenaten’s expense and remove all trace of his name — including off of the official list of pharaohs as was written in some of the tombs. But you can certainly understand the impulse. Obama, an America-hating Marxist at his core, is our version of Akhenaten. And if there was justice in this world, we’d chisel off his image when he is gone.

    Episode Three presumably covers the remaining rulers of this Golden Age, including Ramesses.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The Greeks also had 2 sun gods, Helios and Apollo (and 2 moon goddesses, Artemis and Selene), though this may represent accretions over the centuries. It seems that Aten was the disk of the sun, but I don’t know exactly how that differentiates him from Ra (who was eventually fused with Amun).

      In one of Lynda Robinson’s Lord Meren mysteries, Meren is pointing out to one former courtier of Akhenaten, who wants some sort of protection from the priests of Amun, that the courtier had taken part in the chiseling out of the names of the other gods and goddesses.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Some interesting re-created views of the complex at Giza here

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The third episode of season six of Empires is the best of the three about Egypt: The Last Great Pharaoh. And when will Hollywood get with it and make an epic movie about Ramesses. Perhaps such a noble and spectacular creation is beyond the abilities of them now. But I think it could make a great movie.

    It’s interesting that Ramesses, in particular, had a fully functioning, intricate, and large propaganda machine.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Wilson Tucker, in his novel The Lincoln Hunters, has a character naming Rameses II as the first great propagandist for turning Kadesh into a great victory. You may recall that there is a reference to Kadesh in The Ten Commandments, as a great past victory by the pharaoah before Rameses. (Of course, there were a lot of pharaohs named Rameses, though I don’t think any were the son of Rameses II.)

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes, I’m pretty sure all the subsequent Ramesses after II were not directly related. I remember reading or seeing in one of the documentaries that the various “Ramesses” were trying to reclaim the grandeur of II. How many lesser loser Kennedys do we have playing off the name? At least they’re related.

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