… about the beauty of Piankhi?
My last post dealt with the Cushite (Ethiopian, Nubian) Treasurer of Queen Amanikhatashan who ruled Cush from 62 AD to 85 AD. Piankhi was one of the early kings of the unbroken line of monarchs (kings and queens) who ruled the Kingdom of Cush for 1,200 years, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. He was king of both Ethiopia and Egypt from 747 BC to 716 BC and was the second Pharaoh of Egypt’s 25th Dynasty1. The Featured Image at the top of this blog post is a head statute of Piankhi.
At this point I want to try to clarify something that is probably creating some confusion amongst my readers. I have used the terms Ethiopia, Cush (which may be spelled with a C or a K), and Nubia interchangeably. The first thing to understand is that the country of Ethiopia of today is not the Ethiopia of the Bible or the Ethiopia of the Ancient Greeks. The Ethiopia of today used to be known as Abyssinia. Evidently Emperor Haile Selassie changed the name of the country from Abyssinia to Ethiopia during World War II. Modern day Ethiopia might have been on the southeastern fringe of the Ancient Ethiopian Empire.
Ethiopia comes from the Greek work Aithiops, meaning burnt faces which is a description of how blacks would have appeared to the first white Greeks who saw them. If we go back to the time of Homer, the Land of the Blacks (Ethiopia) extended from the western edge of Africa, including North Africa, to southern India, including Egypt and the Asiatic Middle East in between. In the Odyssey, Homer pens the following:
But now Poseidon had gone to visit the Ethiopians worlds away,
Ethiopians off at the farthest limits of mankind,
a people split in two, one part where the Sungod sets
and part where the Sungod rises. There Poseidon went
to receive an offering, bulls and rams by the hundred—
far away at the feast the Sea-lord sat and took his pleasure. (Odyssey 1.21-25)
So we see that at the time that Homer wrote the Odyssey, perhaps around 800 BC, the Blacks not only lived in Africa (“where the sun sets) but also in Asia (“where the sun rises”).
Lady Lugard’s comments on the Greek’s view of the Ethiopians is quite telling:
“The fame of the Ethiopians was widespread in ancient history. Herodotus, Homer, in even in more flattering language describes them as “the most just of men: the favorites of the gods.” The annals of all the great early nations of Asia Minor are full of them. The Mosaic records allude to them frequently; but while they are described as the most powerful, the most just, and the most beautiful of the human race, they are constantly spoken of as black, and there seems to be no other conclusion to be drawn, than that at that remote period of history the leading race of the Western world was the black race.”2 [writer’s italics].
The above views were expressed by many different Greeks over a period several hundred years. Perhaps it was because the Ethiopians were, indeed, powerful people who knew how to humanely exercise their power.
As time passed what was considered the land of the blacks became smaller and smaller until it came to designate the area south of Egypt (Sudan comes from the Arabic Beled-es-Sudan, land of the Blacks). In the Old Testament of the Bible, the Hebrews used the word Cush to refer to the land south of Egypt. The Greek Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) substitutes the word Ethiopia for Cush. Cush had no racial connotation but Ethiopia obviously did. According to David O’Connor, before 1550 BC, the Ancient Egyptians referred to the land to the south as Ta-Nehasyu (or Ta-Neheshi). We also know that they called it Ta-Seti, the Land of the Bow. After 1550 BC, Egyptians often called the country Cush (Kush) from whence came the Hebrew designation. O’Connor asserts that “… during the first millennium BC, Kush was the preferred name for all Nubia in Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, and Hebrew”.3 Somehow, over time the name Nubia came to be associated with Cush, perhaps because of the gold found in the region.
In short, when I speak of Ancient Ethiopia, Cush, or Nubia, I am talking about the civilization centered along the Nile River from the 1st Cataract to at least the 6th Cataract. Historically the area from the 1st to the 2nd Cataract was part of Nubia, but today it is part of Egypt.
I maintain that the Pharaoh Piankhi epitomized the admirable human qualities that the ancients attributed to the Wonderful Ethiopians of the Ancient Cushite Empire, borrowing from the title of a book by the pioneering and courageous scholar Drusilla Dunjee Houston. I now proceed to back up my assertion.
Piankhi’s father, Kashta, “was confirmed in power by the priests of Amon [at Thebes], and where he obliged the High Priestess to adopt his daughter as her successor. In thus formalizing the alliance between the monarchy and the Amon cult he was following the practice of a number of earlier pharaohs. There is no suggestion of military activity connected with Kashta’s visit; apparently he journeyed in peace and was acclaimed at Thebes, as he was at Jebel Barkal as the appointed patron of Amon and defender of the faith”.4 This anointing of Kashta took place sometime before 751 BC, the year he died. Therefore, it seems clear that by their actions, the priests of Amon confirmed Kashta as the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt, and he, therefore, became the founder of Egypt’s 25th Dynasty. This happened at a time when Egypt was being wracked by division and disunity with Libyans from the North taking control of provinces (nomes) in Middle and Lower (northern) Egypt.
With the passing of Kashta, his son Piankhi began to rule from his Cushite capital of Napata around 751 BC. In the 21st year of his reign, Piankhi received pleas for help from princes and military commanders in Egypt. “The military officials at Thebes implored Piankhi to protect the domains of Amon against the intruder”. The intruder referred to here is Tefnakhte, a Libyan prince. Evidently the number of soldiers at Thebes were not enough to deal with the Libyan and Asiatic threat. After daily pleas from the Egyptians at Thebes, Piankhi decided to act. Let us now hear the words of beautiful Piankhi, as written on his Stela6 (a massive slab of dark-gray granite, nearly 6 feet high and 4 feet 7.5 inches wide and about 1 foot 5 inches thick, written in impeccable hieroglyphics shown as the first image at the end of this post):
His first act was to send orders to, “the princes and commanders of the army who were in Egypt … “Hasten into battle line, engage in battle, surround …., capture its people, its cattle, its ships upon the river. Let not the peasants go forth to the field, let not the plowmen plow, beset the frontier of the Hare nome, fight against it daily. “Then they did so.” (Victory Stela)
They were to hold down the fort until reinforcement got there. Piankhi’s instructions to the solders he sent to Egypt are indeed instructive:
“When ye arrive at Thebes, before Karnak, ye shall enter into the water, ye shall bathe in the river, ye shall dress in [fine linen], unstring the bow, loosen the arrow. Let not the chief boast as a mighty man; there is no strength to the mighty without him, He maketh the weak-armed into the strong-armed, so that multitudes flee from the feeble, and one alone taketh a thousand men. Sprinkle yourselves with the water of his altars, sniff the ground before him. Say ye to him, ‘Give us the way, that we may fight in the shadow of thy sword. (As for) the generation whom thou hast sent out, when its attack occurs, multitudes flee before it.’ “
The king made it clear that they were to be laser focused on the military mission and preparation. His orders bring to mind another Ethiopian king, Memnon, who traveled to Troy from Persia (Iran) to help out his uncle Priam, King of Troy, in their fight against the Greeks. When the Trojan king offered his soldiers alcoholic drinks, Memnon said no and told his soldiers to go to bed so that they could be ready to fight the next day. Piankhi told his soldiers to purify themselves by bathing in the Nile at Thebes and sprinkling themselves with water from the altar in Egypt’s most sacred city, Thebes (which the Egyptians call No-Amon, the dwelling place of Amon, God) and then dressing themselves in fine linen. What a sight this must have been with thousands of black men (they were probably jet black) dressed in white and ready for battle! He reminds them that their strength comes from God when he tells them, “Let not the chief boast as a mighty man; there is no strength to the mighty without him, He maketh the weak-armed into the strong-armed, so that multitudes flee from the feeble, and one alone taketh a thousand men”. This brings to mind what Joshua said in verse 10 of Chapter 23 of the book of Joshua, “One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the Lord your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.” (KJV). Like Joshua, Piankhi put his trust in the Lord for victory.
The soldiers did well when they engaged the enemy in battle but they let some of them get away which enraged Piankhi. Upon hearing the report, the King said, “”Have they allowed a remnant of the army of the Northland to remain? allowing him that went forth of them to go forth, to tell of his campaign? not causing their death, in order to destroy the last of them? I swear: as Re loves me! [writer’s italics] I will myself go northward, that I may destroy that which he has done, that I may make him turn back from fighting, forever.” (Victory Stela).
Piankhi fought his way north to Thebes where he completed the Feast of Amon at the Feast of Opet; he was scrupulous in observing tradition and performing sacrifices wherever he went. In terms of his culture and belief system, he was a keeper of the Law. In the above passage, Piankhi expresses the conviction that God loves him when he says, “… as Re loves me”. This same conviction that God loves him is expressed several other times in this stela. One theologian has said that one Sunday school song, Yes Jesus Loves Me, conveys the whole essence of Christianity. The Christian who walks with Jesus is thoroughly convinced that he is beloved of God, as was Piankhi, and is the apple of his eye. Thus some evangelical churches sing a song called, Keep Me Jesus as the Apple of Thine Eye.
As Piankhi moves north subduing one city or nome after another (Heracleopolis, Hermopolis, Memphis, and Heliopolis are a few of the well-known places), he gives them two options: open up your gates, surrender and live or keep your gates closed and die. If they opened up their gates and surrendered, nobody died; he only expected obedience and tribute, which the princes, chiefs, and kings supplied in abundance: in gold, silver, lapis lazuli, malachite, bronze, many types of costly stone, other things of value, and often horses of the finest breeds. One is struck by the wealth of these cities and small kingdoms. The bounty became gifts for the domain of Amon at Thebes, and some Piankhi took back with him to Napata when the fighting was over.
An example of the ultimatum issued is the following:
“His majesty sailed north to the opening of the canal beside Illahun; he found Per-Sekhemkhperre with its valiant wall raised, and its stronghold closed, filled with every valiant man of the Northland. Then his majesty sent to them, saying: “Ye living in death! Ye living in death! Ye insignificant …. and miserable ones! Ye living in death! If an hour passes without opening to me, behold, ye are of the number of the fallen; and that is [painful] to the king. Close not the gates of your life, to be brought to the block this day. Love not death, nor hate life ……… before the whole land.” (Victory Stela).
Per-Sekhemkhperre surrendered and “The army of his majesty entered into it, without slaying one of all the people”. [writer’s italics]. He extended this kind of mercy and forgiveness to all of the cities and nomes that surrendered. Only those places that resisted Piankhi suffered casualties. Tefnakht, the Libyan prince who was Piankhi’s main adversary, fled north as Piankhi advanced but eventually surrendered after he had gone to a temple and essentially hugged the horns of the altar, promising to act right. After hearing his plea, “Then his majesty was satisfied therewith.” He did not keep his promise, but instead, fought against the legitimate government of Egypt for another generation.
This valiant king was capable of going into a rage if rubbed the wrong way. After the surrender of Hermopolis, Piankhi went to inspect the horse stables and went into a rage when,
“he saw that they had suffered hunger, he said: “I swear, as Re loves me, and as my nostrils are rejuvenated with life, it is more grievous in my heart that my horses have suffered hunger, than any evil deed that thou hast done, in the prosecution of thy desire. It has borne witness of thee to me, the fear of thy associates for thee. Didst thou not know that the god’s shadow is over me? and that my fortune never perishes because of him? Would that another had done it to me! I could not but condemn him on account of it. When I was fashioned in the womb, and created in the divine egg the seed of the god was in me. By his ka, I do nothing without him; he it is who commands me to do it.” (Victory Stela).
Cleary he was a lover of horses, but this account again demonstrates his confidence in and dependence on God, more than his dependence on his flesh. He said, “Didst thou not know that the god’s shadow is over me?” In other words, do you really know who I am? I am a child of God who was predestined to be who I am.
At several points, the stela speaks of how the defeated foes came to see the “beauty of his majesty”, hence the title of this blog: Why didn’t they tell you about the beauty of Piankhi?
I believe that Piankhi’s character is consistent with the picture of the Ethiopians painted by the Ancient Greeks.
What I also see in Piankhi and his character are types and shadows of Christ and the New Testament or, perhaps, I should say types and shadows of the Christian walk under the New Covenant that Jesus Christ ushered in. Every place Piankhi went to, he did sacrifices, which the New Covenant did away with. He scrupulously keep the Law, but he never heard the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Eight hundred years later, one of his countrymen (the Cushite eunuch) heard the Gospel and responded to it immediately. Would Pharaoh Piankhi have done the same? He just might have.
There is a 2014 PBS documentary on Prime Video about the 25th Dynasty called The Rise of the Black Pharaohs. The unstated assumption, or it could be called the inarticulate major premise, of the title of this video and the content of the video is that the Black Pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty were exceptions since everyone knows that Egyptians, and the Pharaohs up until the 25th Dynasty, were white. The unarticulated premise is that Pharaohs are white. What I submit to you is that the White Pharaohs were the exception, not the rule. I invite you to view the images of Pharaohs from Egypt’s Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, and New Kingdom shown below. If you will allow yourself to accept what your eyes see, you cannot, with a straight face, say that any of those nine individuals are white, European, or Asian.
Finally there is a misconception still being conveyed that the Ethiopians invaded or attacked Egypt. It seems obvious that they come by invitation. Egyptologist Cherubini echoes this point of view in the following passage:
“In any event, it is remarkable that the authority of the king of Ethiopia seemed recognized by Egypt, less as that of an enemy imposing his rule by force, than as a guardianship invited by the prayers of a long-suffering country, afflicted with anarchy within its borders and weakened abroad. In this monarch, Egypt found a representative of its ideas and beliefs, a zealous regenerator of its institutions, a powerful protector of its independence. The reign of Shabaka was in fact viewed as one of the happiest in Egyptian memory. His dynasty, adopted over the land of the Pharaohs, ranks twenty-fifth in the order of succession of national families who have occupied the throne.”7
The passage speaks for itself. Shabaka is Piankhi’s brother who was his immediate successor.
“… and the truth shall make you free”.
Notes and References
- William, J. Murnane (1997). “Disunity and foreign rule” in Ancient Egypt, David P. Silverman, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 37.
- Flora Shaw – Lady Lugard (1905). A tropical dependency. London: James Nisbet & Co., Limited.
- O’Connor, David (1993). Ancient Nubia: Egypt’s rival in Africa. Philadelphia: The University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, p. 3.
- Adams, William Y. (1977). Nubia: corridor to Africa. Princeton, N. J.: Allen Lane, Princeton University Press, pp. 260-261.
- Adams, p. 261.
- The text and the graphic of Piankhi’s Sela can be accessed at http://realhistoryww.com/world_history/ancient/Victory_Stela_of_Piye.htm)
This is how the eminent Egyptologist James Henry Breasted described Piankhi’s Victory Stela:
“…this remarkable literary monument is the clearest and most rational account of a military expedition which has survived from Ancient Egypt. It displays literary skill and an appreciation for dramatic situations which is notable, while the vivacious touches found here and there quite relieve it of the arid tone usual in such hieroglyphic documents. The imagination endues the personages appearing here more easily with life than those of any other similar historical narrative of Egypt; and the humane Piankhi especially, the lover of horses, remains a man far removed from the conventional companion and equal of the gods who inevitably occupies the exalted throne of the Pharaohs in all other such records”, quoted in Adams, p. 262.
- Quoted in Cheikh Anta Diop (1967), The African origin of civilization: myth or reality. Westport, Connecticut: Lawrence Hill & Company, p. 146.
Other Pharaohs of Egypt