Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest narrative works known to man, dating back to as early as 2100BC and the Third Dynasty of Ur, in Mesopotamia.  It tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, who became his friend.

The Epic was rediscovered in 1853, in he palace library of Ashurbanipal, a 7th century BC king of Assyria, though there are still missing fragments of the tale.

The recent invasion of Iraq, and the looting that followed, saw a cuneiform clay tablet turn up for sale at the Sulaymaniah Museum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, where it was purchased for $800.  The tablet was a fragment of Tablet V of the Epic of Gilgamesh and contained 20 lines never seen before of the Epic.

It is cool to think that even after all this time we can discover new storied from the past and that there might be more out there, hidden under sands or lost in jungles, as long as they aren’t destroyed first.

 

Sometimes you stumble across things you had no idea about and end up rather blown away by it.  For me, history especially does that.  I love to find out new things about the past that I had never dreamed of before.  One recent example of this was when I discovered the existence of the Kingdom of Makuria.  And I had a computer game to thank for it.

That games is Crusader Kings 2, in which you guide a dynasty through the early and middle medieval period, in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, India and the Steppes.  While poking around in it, I came across the Kingdom of Makuria and looked further into it.  I was fascinated by what I found.

Makuria was one of three Nubian nations which rose in the forth of fifth century, the other two being Alodia and Nobatia.  They were situated in what is today southern Egypt and northern Sudan.  By the end of the 6th century all were Christian nations, converted after a series of missions were sent by the Byzantium Empire, eventually becoming part of the Coptic Church.

At some unknown point, possibly before 642, Makuria absorbed Nobatia into its kingdom.

Then the Muslims struck.

In December 639, the Muslims invaded Egypt, then a part of the Byzantium Empire, and had conquered it by 641.  They gave the native Christian populace three choices – convert, be killed or become second class citizens with a heavy tax burden.

In 642, the Muslims turned south and attempted to invade Makuria.  The exact event are unclear, as all sources come from the Muslim invaders, but at what is called the First Battle of Dongala, the Muslim were repelled with heavy losses.  It appears that the Makurians fought a guerilla was against the Muslims, using their renown Nubian bowmen and superior light cavalry.  The Muslims withdrew, claiming that they had not lost, and that the land was poor with no treasure worth fighting for, despite Makuria possessing fertile farmlands along the Nile and a gold mine.

In 652 the Muslims tried again, and once more suffered defeat at the Second Battle of Dongala.  They besieged the capital of Makuria, Dongala, but were defeated by its walls which were defended by the Nubian archers.  After heavy losses again and the refusal of the Makurian king, Qalidurat, to surrender, the Muslims struck a treaty with the Makurians.

The treaty was called the baqt, and was unique in regards to Muslim relations with non-Muslims.  It was the duty of the Muslim world to conquer the rest of the world and force it to convert to Islam.  Unable to defeat the Makurian, instead more pragmatic heads prevailed.  According to the treaty, neither side would attack the other.  The Makurians would send slaves to the Muslims with the Muslims would send manufactured goods south to Makuria.  The baqt was to last for seven hundred years, making it the longest lasting treaty in history.

With its sovereignty safeguarded, Makuria grew in strength and wealth, reaching its zenith in the 8th to 9th century.  It was a land of art, architecture and literature, though what literature has been found to date is mostly of legal and religious nature.

When the Fatamids were replaced by the Ayyubids in Egypt in 1171, fortunes began to decline for the Makurians.  Internal difficulties began to afflict the Makurians and the Muslims began to interfere in the nation.  Eventually the Mameluke Egyptians invaded and in 1312 occupied the kingdom, ending Makuria as a nation.  Under the weight of the occupying Muslims, the natives began to convert.

Alodia clung on until 1504 when it too was conquered and converted to Islam, ending the long history of Christian Nubia.

It is a fascinating piece of history, and one still little understood.  Sadly, much of ancient Makuria is today beneath water after the damming of the Nile, which means there may be lots we may never find out.

There doesn’t seem a lot published on the region, but I intend to track down as much as I can and obtain copies of it.  Who knows, someday I may write on the subject, or use it as an inspiration for stories.

It is amazing what you can sometimes stumble across on the internet when searching for an almost totally unrelated subject.

For me, it was this guy, Prince Khaemweset.  He was the grandson of Seti I, and son of Ramesses II.  That is right, THE Ramesses.  Ramesses the Great.

Khaemweset was the second son of Ramesses, born in the 13th century BC, and became a priest, the Sem-Priest of Ptah.  What he is best remembered for is restoring the monuments of earlier kings and nobles, for which he is sometimes called the first Egyptologist.

Consider this; by the time he was born, Ancient Egypt had been around for almost 2000 years already, and many of the monuments he restored were well over 1000 years in age.

Fast forward to the Greco-Roman period over 1000 years later and Khaemweset is reborn in Egyptian literature, albeit more as a mythological hero, called Setne Khamwas.  Setne was a corruption of his title, setem-priest.  There are two stories we know of, and I’d like to think there are more out there waiting to be discovered.

In the first, Setne Khamwas and Naneferkaptah, he comes across as something of an adventure archaeologist, a sort of precursor to Indiana Jones, seeking out for the Book of Thoth in the tomb of Prince Naneferkaptah.  Needless to say, it doesn’t go entirely as planned.

The second, Setne Khamwas and Si-Osireinvolves trips to the afterlife, a magician from the past and an evil magician from Nubia out to destroy Egypt.

I’m hoping to get a chance to read them soon as they sound rather interesting.  Plus I am sure there are parts of them I can use as ideas or inspiration for stories.  I’m guessing that by now they have also fallen into public domain. 🙂

Diving Into An Ancient City

Posted: February 21, 2014 in History
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Have you every wanted to dive to ancient city lost beneath the waves?  No, I’m not talking about Atlantis here.  I’m talking about a city sunk beneath the waters deliberately by man.  I’m not talking about the Aswan Dam in Egypt either, but a place in China.

In 1959, a hydroelectric scheme in China created the Qiandao Lake (literally the Thousand Island Lake).  In the process of doing so, it sunk an ancient city, called Shi Cheng (Lion City), which was founded somewhere between 25 to 200 AD, to a depth of between 25 and 40 metres.

Now enterprising types are offering tourist dives to see the city.  If I ever go to China, it is certainly a place I’d like to visit.

Australia, despite its young age as a nation, is not without its abandoned settlements.  Many of this are from the Gold Rush era, quickly springing into existence, and just as quickly fading away.  As the population has become more urbanised, it has continued on.  I’ve walked in a few of these places, and there is a melancholy air to them.  These were places people lived, worked and loved, and now only the memories remain.  I can only imagine diving in such a place would be even more so.

And as a writer, sunken cities are filled with all sorts of possibilities…

The Tomb of the Pharaoh’s Brewer – it almost sounds like the title of an old pulp style horror adventure.  But in this case it is a real place.

Japanese archaeologists working in Egypt have found a 3200 year old tomb belonging to Khonso Em Heb, a leading beer producer and head of the royal storehouses.

Such little insights into the past I always find fascinating, but also provide a source of ideas for stories.  This is one that could stir an adventure for Sir Richard Hammerman, seeking out ancient beer recipes while avoiding the menace of the mummy of the ancient brewer who guards them…

Sounds of the Past

Posted: May 5, 2013 in History, Music
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It amazing what you can find when you aren’t looking for it. The other day I was perusing youtube when I noticed something in the suggested video lists – something called The Oldest Known Melody (Hurrian Hymn no. 6 – c.1400BC)

Intrigued, I clicked on the video and was met with the following.

As always I did a bit of looking up on it, and discovered a bit more. In 1950 in the ancient port city of Ugarit (preset day Syria), a series of clay cuneiform tablets were discovered which contained fragments of noted music, the Hurrian Songs. The most complete was the Hurrian Hymn to Nikkal, or Hymn no 6, the oldest surviving substaitally complete noted music in the world. It turns out that while it is notated, no one can agree as to how exactly to translate it, and their are at least 5 rival, substantially different interpretations of it.

Even so, listening to something that may have been played 3400 years ago is an amazing thing.

The oldest complete musical composition in the world is the Seikilos Epitath, from somewhere between 200BC and 100 AD.

In the image of it, you can see the notations above the lyrics that accompanied it.

It sounds like this.

As a history buff, this is the kind of thing I find interesting – beneath the Sea of Galilee in Israel, a massive, mysterious stone structure has been found, and no one is exactly sure as to its purpose.

It is also big – 70 metres across and 10 metres high. It was first spotted by sonar scan in 2003, and even a dive on the site hasn’t really worked out much about it, who made it, its age or purpose.

The full write up is available in the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

As a writer, I like scattering such unknowns around my worlds, random monuments to past ages and cultures that remain mysterious and unexplained.