08 December 2016

THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRST DRAWINGS OF PALMYRA (Part II)

Part I: click here

Who drew this 'Curious Prospect' of Palmyra?


At the end of his report on his successful visit to Palmyra ('A Relation of a Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra in Syria', 1695), the Rev.William Halifax added a note to announce the very latest news:

True to his word, Halifax reproduced that 'curious prospect' ('curious' in the sense of an impossible panorama), in the very next Philosophical Transactions, together with extracts from the travel diaries kept by two eminent merchants,Timothy Lanoy and Aaron Goodyear.  Those gentlemen had been on the first disastrous attempt to reach Palmyra in 1678 and gave it a second, successful try in 1691. Their journals recount both voyages in great detail: what they saw on the trail to and from Palmyra/Tadmor (tracks, rocks, ruined villages, empty wells and cisterns, and, the climax of the second diary, a vivid account of their visit to the 'King of the Arabs' in his camp on the Euphrates River).  Lanoy and Goodyear also provided Halifax with the very large (71 x 149 cm/2.4' x 5') copperplate engraving (his Noble Ruins, taken on the Place) which he duly published.

Now, look at A View of the Ruins of Palmyra alias Tadmor (above) and mentally strip out the English legend and all those labels. With them gone, you can better compare the engraving with this painting of Rudera Palmyrae, 'Ruins of Palmyra', (below) in living colour:



This oil painting on canvas (ignore its Latin legend which was added much later, as we explain below) was shipped to Gisbert Cuper by Coenraad Calckberner, the Dutch Consul in Aleppo in 1693; and we know from the Consul's earlier correspondance that the artist was busy painting it during 1692 [Part I]. 

Despite some artistic insertions -- such as the colourful figure and exotic natives in the centre foreground -- and, here and there, differing architectural details (e.g. height of towers, tumbled column drums, architraves and such), everyone will agree that, for all intents and purposes, the panoramic views are identical.

Who made the original drawing, the first drawing of Palmyra, then?

The engraving is unsigned and neither Halifax nor Lanoy nor Goodyear ever mention who was responsible for the drawing. However, in their journal of the return trip from Palmyra to Aleppo in 1691, there is this nugget: the travellers had stopped on the Euphrates to visit Assyne, 'King' of the Arabs', and casually remark that, we let [Assyne] see, too, a kind of rude draught [draft] which we had taken of the Place [Palmyra]; which he seemed to like.

Could this draft be the original master drawing? Unquestionably, some such rough original, made on site, must underlie both the engraving and the painting.  If so, Lanoy or Goodyear would have been the draftsman.  Perhaps, as eminent gentlemen, they were too modest (or too snobbish) to make a public claim. So, if one or the other were the artist, this easily solves our Mystery ... but, alas, there are serious problems with this solution.

We mustn't forget that the travellers remained only four days in Palmyra. It would have been virtually impossible for anyone other than a trained architectural draftsman to have measured and drawn such an expansive, detailed panorama in such a short time. Lanoy and Goodyear were merchants; classically trained, of course, and probably capable of decent sketching, but their interests were elevated: they did not draw buildings, they copied inscriptions. Besides, in those four days, even the indefatigable Halifax couldn't describe in words all that he saw -- let alone draw it all in approximate scale and perspective; in truth, he did not describe sections of the Great Colonnade, the whole western part of the city, the Funerary Temple, and Diocletian's Camp.

I suspect, too, that Lanoy and Goodyear had a slightly lackadaisical attitude to the actual structures. In page after page, they tell us of their travels, often closely observed, but say almost nothing about the city, with no details of their stay nor descriptions of the sights they had come so far to see.  In fact, this is the sum total of their account of the city itself:
Having tired ourselves with roving from Ruin to Ruin and rumaging among old Stones, from which little Knowledge could be obtained, and more especially not thinking it safe to linger too long .... we departed from Tadmor, being very well satisfied with what we had seen, and glad to have escaped so dreaded a Place...; but else with some regret, for having left a great many things behind, which deserved a more particular and curious Inspection.
That doesn't sound like men who spent every daylight hour measuring and drawing ruins.
 

So, if probably not Lanoy or Goodyear; then, who?

A Dutch painter?

Unlike the engraving, the monstrously large painting (.87 x 4.31 m/2'10"x 14'2") is signed and even dated.  What does it say? 
                    G. Hofstede fec: 1693. 1 aug.
Well, that should settle the question of who made the master drawing of Palmyra; except, of course, it doesn't.

In fact, it makes matters worse. For who is G. Hofstede and how did he make (fec.) it? 

What do we know about Gerard Hofstede? 

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

That is astonishing.  The study of 17th century Dutch art and artists has been going on for centuries and there are huge databases online (e.g. Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon - Internationale Künstlerdatenbank).  Yet, other than being the artist of the 'Ruins of Palmyra', Hofstede (also named Hofstede van Essen), draws a blank.  Even the very learned Herr Doktor Professor Friedrich von Duhn, who studied the painting in 1894 (Archäologische Anzeiger) could find nothing to say about him. The man simply vanished, as if into the thin air of the desert.

What facts do we have?  Only that Coenraad Calckberner, the Dutch Consul in Aleppo wrote to Gisbert Cuper in mid-1692 telling him that an (unnamed) artist was painting the ruins of Palmyra and that he would send him the painting when finished; a year later, he confirmed that it was on its way -- which agrees with the date on the painting. 

Von Duhn concluded that Hofstede must have been the artist of the original drawing ... since nobody else could have been. The learned professor is both right, and wrong.  The solution, I think, is found in Calckberner's letter (written in a rather old form of Dutch, which  might be stretching my linguistic abilities too far).  This is the relevant extract from his letter to Mr Cuper in 1692:*

;

He is sending an aftrektekening -- not as usually translated, 'a painting'; but rather an old word for a copy, even a calque (tracing), of an existing drawing. In other words, Hofstede is putting into paint the drawing(s) he has made on the site.

What I think happened is this. 

1678 and All That

The eminent merchants Lanoy and Goodyear had both been to Palmyra in 1678, a brief and fearful visit, but which nonetheless allowed them a glimpse of the ruins. On arrival, the company realized their great danger and rode to the top of a hill to defend themselves if need be.  From that eminence, they could discern these vast and noble ruins. Persuaded to descend, they pitched their tents inside the Town Walls, which is in the ruins of a great Palace, the Wall yet standing very high [in fact, the grounds surrounding the Temple of Bel]. Thus, Lanoy and Goodyear had a far better idea of Palmyra than those who only joined in the second voyage. Might they have hired a draftsman to accompany them in 1691, precisely in order to prepare drawings of what they knew they would find?  

Enter Cornelis de Bruijn

Five years after the first abortive visit to Palmyra, a Dutch artist named Cornelis de Bruijn, arrived in Aleppo (May 1682 - April 1683).  De Bruijn had been travelling in the eastern Mediterranean since 1678 (Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Holy Land), drawing views of old monuments -- perhaps not the most beautiful of drawings but better than anything that was known in Europe at the time. Despite the dangers, de Bruijn was eager to attempt another visit to Palmyra ... but the local Arabs would not cooperate, and his plans came to nothing. Disappointed, he started on the long journey homewards.


It's by no means impossible that de Bruijn, an agreeable person who was welcome in the highest Dutch diplomatic and mercantile circles, met Lanoy and Goodyear during his stay of almost a year in Aleppo.  That might have given them the idea of hiring an artist to accompany them on their second voyage to measure and draw the ruins; and, if you need an artist, who better than a Dutchman?  This is speculation, of course. Yet we might well have a bit of evidence for Gerard Hofstede's actual presence on site in Palmyra in 1691.  Oddly enough, the proof is due to Cornelis de Bruijn....

In 1698, de Bruijn published his hugely successful book, Travels in the Principal Parts of Asia Minor, illustrated with over 200 pictures of spectacular oriental monuments:

I want to offer accurate pictures, of those cities, towns, and buildings that I have visited, and without recklessness I can claim to have done something that no one has done before.
Sometime between 1693, when he returned to Holland, and before the publication of his Travels, Gisbert Cuper invited de Bruijn to Deventer to study the giant painting of the 'Ruins of Palmyra' which was now in his collection. Accordingly, De Bruyn included in his book a copy of the engraving of the ruins of Palmyra that had been published by William Halifax in Philosophical Transactions (top of this post). But, as he boasted, he was able to add to it details that he had discovered from close inspection of Mr Cuper's painting.  For example, he added a fallen (dark) porphyry column beside the six standing (white) columns in the lower centre, which was not on the published engraving.

This porphyry column can only mean that, as he was painting, Hofstede was slightly reworking the panorama -- either from memory or from sketches he had made on the site. And there he is: he painted himself standing on a stone slab bang in the middle of the painting (left), his hand pointing to his signature as if incised on the stone.

So, I think that Hofstede's original drawing was the basis for the engraving published in Philosophical Transactions in 1695, and that this was also the 'rude draft' that Lanoy and Goodyear showed to the Arab king on their way back to Aleppo in 1691. Hofstede left the enraving unsigned, partly because it was based on an unfinished drawing, and partly because it was the property of his patrons (in modern terms, they owned the copyright).  Meanwhile, Hofstade worked on his painting during 1692-3, and sold it, when it was finished, to the Dutch Consul who bought it on behalf of Mr Cuper. 

What happened to Gerard Hofstede after that, we know not. 

He disappears from history, but his painting lives on.

1716-17

Gisbert Cuper died in 1716. In the following year, his collection of 4,100 books and a few antiquities was sold in an auction that lasted nine days. The 'Ruins of Palmyra' was knocked down to Gerard van Papenbroeck (1673-1743), a great art collector and future burgomaster of Amsterdam, for 17 florins -- not a large sum considering its size and historical importance, but the art market was poor in this long period of economic decline. 

in memoriam 1743

When he died, in turn, in 1743, Van Papenbroeck bequeathed his antiquities to the universities of Leiden and Amsterdam.  The Illustrious Athenaeum of Amsterdam got the prize of Palmyra. Van Papenbroeck won a permanent commemoration with a Latin legend superimposed on the painting in gold letters:
RUDERA. PALMYRAE. AD. VIVVUM. EXPRESSA + DONO.DEDIT. NOBILISSIMUS .IUDICUM. AMSTELAEDAMENSIUM. QUONDAM / PRAESES. G.v. PAPENBROECK. X. IAN. CIÄIÄCCXLIII.
G. v. PAPENBROECK, MOST NOBLE OF AMSTERDAM JUDGES, FORMER BURGOMASTER, GAVE THIS AS A GIFT, 1743**
Whereupon the painting, while known to interested scholars, became all but invisible to the public, hanging first  in the entrance of the Library of the University of Amsterdam, and then moved next door into a storeroom of  the Allard-Pierson Museum, where I first saw it in 1999. 

2016-17

And now it has moved back to Deventer for the first time in almost 300 years as the centrepiece of a splendid little exhibition that highlights the historic relationship between Palmyra and the charming city of Deventer.  Finally, members of the public can now see the painting as close up as they like.  There is so much to enjoy in it.


Palmyra. City of a Thousand Pillars in Deventer

The Museum De Waag (the medieval weighing hall) is hosting the exhibition, telling the story of Palmyra from its discovery by the Western world in the 17th century, till the exploded monuments and murders that scarred the city in 2015. 

The exhibition is triggered by the recent mayhem in Palmyra committed by ISIS. What motivates the violence of ISIS? And how do Syrians themselves experience the loss of their cultural heritage? When the painting by Gerard Hofstede arrived in the home of Gisbert Cuper, 'the oracle of the world of learning' and mayor (burgomaster) of Deventer, it was the first representation of the ruins to be seen in the West.  It marks the start of western fascination with the almost mythical desert city.

I'll be visiting the exhibition in late January and will briefly report.  I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Until 12 February 2017.

Palmyra, Stad van Duizend Zuilen in Deventer, Museum De Waag

Palmyra. City of a Thousand Pillars in Deventer, Deventer History Museum De Waag

* I am immensely grateful to Prof. L. Dirven of the University of Amsterdam who kindly sent me the digitalized files of Mr Cuper's correspondence now archived in the Royal Library in The Hague -- a fascinating bundle, as well as (I hope) an instructive one.


** My warmest thanks to Laura Gibbs of the wonderful blog Bestiaria Latina for correcting my rusty Latin translation of the legend; as well as giving me and many others years of fun blogging posts [her cats speak Latin].  Everyone who likes Latin (or even vaguely remembers it) should check out her blog.

Sources.  As in Part I, plus: 'An Extract of the Journals of Two Separate Voyages of the English Merchants of the Factory of Aleppo, to Tadmor, Anciently Call'd Palmyra'. Phil Trans. 1695, XIX; F. von Duhn,  'Die älteste Ansicht von Palmyra', ARCHÄOLOGISCHER ANZEIGER, 1894, 112-15; for the life and works of Cornelis de Bruijn I have consulted with much pleasure the always interesting Livius.org: Articles on Ancient History

Illustrations

Top centre: Engraving, 'View of the ruins of Palmyra alias Tadmor: taken on the Southern Side',** published in Philosophical Transactions, 1695. Reprinted in G. Astengo, 'The rediscovery of Palmyra and its dissemination in Philosophical Transactions', Notes Rec R Soc Lond 2016 Sep 20, 70(3): Fig. 1, published online 2016 Mar 16.

2nd centre: Oil painting, signed G. Hofstede, dated 1693, 'The Ruins of Palmyra', sent to Gisbert Cuper in 1693. Photo credit: Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam. 

3rd centre: Extract from a letter written by Coenraad Calckberner to Gisbert Cuper, 1692 (KB 72 C 3, fols. 49r–50r). 

First left: Cornelis de Bruijn, by Godfrey Kneller (c. 1698). Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.  Photo credit: Wikipedia

2nd left: Detail taken from oil painting, signed G. Hofstede, dated 1693.

 
3rd left: Last page of the list of Cuper's books and antiquities auctioned in 1717.  Photo credit: Communications Dept. Deventer Museum, to whom I am most grateful for this illustration.  I take this occasion, too, to thank the PR staff for their generous help.


Bottom centre: Palmyra in Deventer, an article published in the National Geographic online: 12 Nov., 2016. Author and Photographer Servaas Neijens




27 November 2016

THE MYSTERY OF THE FIRST DRAWINGS OF PALMYRA

Who drew the first pictures of the ruins of Palmyra?

The prequel

Provinces and districts of Ottoman Syria (1696). Palmyra/Tadmor is not marked;
my red dot indicates its approximate location.

In the summer of 1678, sixteen intrepid Englishmen with 24 muleteers and servants departed from Aleppo to make the first attempt by Westerners to reach the fabled city of Palmyra (in Arabic, known as Tadmor).  It was not unusual for the foreign merchants of Aleppo, whose education had been broadly based on the Classics, to undertake “Voyages of Curiosity to visit the celebrated Remains of Antiquity in those Parts." Yet, throughout the 17th century, Palmyra wasn't even on the map, and only rumour spoke of it:
... being inform’d by the natives that the Ruins of the City of Tadmor were more considerable than they had yet seen, they were tempted to enterprise this hazardous and painful Voyage over the Desart”.  
The adventurers came from the British Levant Company, whose base at Aleppo was one of the main trading stations in the Mediterranean, managing commerce between Britain and the Ottoman Orient. So off they went, under the leadership of the learned Chaplin of Aleppo, Robert Huntington*. They reached the ruins of Palmyra on 23 July, but soon found themselves trapped and threatened by the local sheikh, Melkam.  To save their lives, they were forced to give up almost everything, even their clothes, before fleeing back to Aleppo empty-handed, shorn of their possessions, and with nearly no information about the city.

Palmyra ho! 

Lithograph said to be based on Halifax's on-the-spot sketch of Palmyra, 1691
A second attempt was made 13 years later (1691). This time the travellers had an Arab guide and a security guarantee given by the 'king of the Arabs', Assyne, whose camp on the Euphrates River was just two days' ride south of Aleppo. Though far from Palmyra, his authority reached into the desert and assured the travellers that, this time, the local sheikh would welcome them peacefully. Two of the merchants had been on the disastrous journey of 1678, and this was their second try: Timothy Lanoy, whose father was British Consul of Aleppo from 1659 to 1672, and Aaron Goodyear, who had been trading in Aleppo from as early as 1670 -- in other words, ‘Men of more than ordinary Birth and Education’, well-to-do merchants with an interest in antiquities and collecting. The expedition consisted of 30 men, all well-armed.  Their leader was the new Chaplin of Aleppo, the Reverend William Halifax. 

4 October 1691
As we rode into the town we took notice of a Castle almost half an hours distance from it, and so situated as to Command both the Pass into the hills ... and the City too. But we could easily perceive it was no Old Building, retaining no foot-steps of the exquisite Workmanship and Ingenuity of the Ancients.

Coming upon the city from the north, the men immediately climbed the hill to visit the castle (upper right on the above engraving).  Halifax was rather snobbish in declaring it not 'old': it was, in fact, built by the Mamluks in the thirteenth century. From the hilltop, they looked down upon virtually the entire city.  The company began their exploration of the site from the south, first visiting the Temple of Bel (far left), the greatest and, until 2015, best-preserved construction of Palmyra, built during the first century CE.  They found the few denizens of the city sheltered behind its walls:
The present inhabitants, as they are a poor, miserable, dirty people, so they have shut themselves up, to the Number of about Thirty or Forty Families, in little Hutts made of dirt [scarce enough for a Dog-kennel, or a Hog-sty], within the Walls of a spacious Court, which enclosed a most magnificent Heathen Temple.
Within the walls of the courtyard, too, they found the first Greek texts inscribed in stone, under which were incised the characters of an unknown language, "which I never saw till in Tadmor, nor understand what to make of it":

Inscription in Palmyrene (From W. Halifax, ‘A Relation of a Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra in Syria …’, 1695)
Halifax correctly surmised that this strange script was Palmyra's “Native Language ... and the Matter it contains nothing else but what we have in the Greek.” And he was right: using the Greek as a crib, later scholars successfully deciphered the script, thus discovering the Palmyrene dialect of the West Aramaic Semitic family -- the first time that a dead language had ever been correctly decoded.

Over the next four days, the company made their way slowly back to their starting point, noting, discussing, and recording the main points of classical interest. They were constantly amazed by the grandiose size of Palmyra -- and even dared to compare it to Rome:
You have the prospect of such Magnificent Ruines, that if it be Lawful to frame a Conjecture of the Original Beauty of the place, by what is still remaining, I question somewhat whether any City in the World could have challenged Precedence over this in its Glory. 
After four days, they withdrew safely to Aleppo, not returning as they had come but riding east to the Euphrates and then following the river northwards (popping in on the way to visit King Assyne in his riverine encampment).  

Hear Ye, Hear Ye!

Halifax sent a report of his travels to Edward Bernard, an Orientalist and astronomer in Oxford, which he passed on to Dr. Thomas Smith, another passionate Orientalist and former Chaplin of the Levant Company in Constantinople, who arranged for the letter to be published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1695. In "A Relation of a Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra in Syria", Halifax provided a thorough description of the visit, following their steps throughout the city.  He reported things in the order that he had seen them himself, walking through the streets and buildings of Palmyra, describing and clarifying each point -- almost providing a textual 'map'.

His report did include, however, an engraving nearly 70 cm (28") long, depicting a detailed 'View of the ruins of Palmyra alias Tadmor: taken on the Southern Side',** with English labels helpfully inserted. It captures nearly the whole city in a remarkable panorama of almost 180° .

This was unquestionably the first published image of Palmyra.  But -- and it's a big but --  who made the drawing?  There is no signature on the engraving, nor is the artist's name mentioned in the report.  And when was it drawn, and how? It is immensely detailed and, yet, the English had stayed but four days in the city.

Double Dutch

Indisputably, Halifax published the first official report of Palmyra ... but he wasn't actually the first to get the news into print: the earliest report of the discovery appeared in France (merde), briefly announced in a letter -- ‘Extrait d'Une Lettre de Mr. Cuper, à Mr. l'Abbé Nicaise’ -- in the Journal des Sçavans on 30 June 1692*** The writer, Monsieur Cuper, transmitted the information he had just received from Aleppo, to wit: some  English gentlemen had made the journey to Palmyra and had seen 400 marble or porphyry columns, temples still intact, tombs, and Greek and Latin inscriptions, of which he hoped soon to receive copies. The writer of the letter was the Dutchman Gisbert Cuper (1644-1716). 

Oracle of the World of Learning

Gisbert Cuper as Mayor of Deventer (c. 1675)
Cuper came from the city of Deventer in the northeastern Dutch province of Overijssel. At the age of 24, he was appointed professor of history and rhetoric at the local Athenaeum, and was made its Rector in 1672.  In 1674 he became the city's mayor, a position he held until appointed as one of the province's representatives in the States General (1681-1694), the Dutch Republic's highest governing body.  His motto: honesta suopte ingenio 'Rightminded by Nature'. 

What nature didn't provide, scholarship and letters did.

Writing letters was the most vital means of communication for members of the early modern scholarly community. Without letters (most often in Latin, the learned language of the time), and the accompanying reciprocal exchange of objects, drawings, books, and other gifts, there would have been little to hold such an extensive, geographically separated community together. Cuper established a network that served both his political and scholarly needs, keeping up a voluminous correspondance all over Europe (more than 5000 of his letters are still preserved in Dutch archives). Like many powerful politicians and merchants of the time, he had the means to contribute to the discovery and circulation of knowledge, either by becoming patron to younger or less pecunious researchers or by participating directly in the learned community.  Once he arrived at the States General in The Hague, Cuper was also able to mobilize diplomatic and consular networks for the satisfaction of his own antiquarian curiosity, corresponding with diplomats, representatives of merchant communities, and their entourage abroad, to transfer scholarly information and objects.

That's how this 'oracle of the world of learning' knew about the discovery of Palmyra, even before the news had reached England. 

The Dutch Connection 

Gisbert Cuper (painted between 1681-1689)
Cuper was a scholarly link between East and West, as is attested by his voluminous correspondence with Jacob Colyer, Dutch Ambassador in Constantinople, and his brother-in- law, Daniel Jan de Hochepied, Consul in Smyrna [today, Izmir]. Colyer and De Hochepied inhabited the cradle of civilization in which Cuper, as an antiquarian scholar, took so much interest.

With the aid of another Dutch Consul, Coenraad Calckberner, in Aleppo, Cuper was able to furnish European scholars with new material for the study of the ancient past. Before Calckberner even arrived in Aleppo (probably when he was about to leave Amsterdam), Cuper wrote urging the new Consul to gather copies of all the inscriptions that were found in the region of Aleppo, to buy ancient coins for him and to deliver pictures of ancient statues and reliefs. 

In July 1692, Calckberner came up trumps. He wrote a letter saying that he would be sending Cuper some rare ancient coins, plus a copy of the travel report written by a minister [Halifax] in the company of the first Europeans who had visited Palmyra -- undoubtedly the source for Cuper's scoop in the Journal des Sçavans -- and a painting depicting those ancient ruins, which the painter was still working on.  The promised items, including the painting (below), were shipped to Cuper on 3 April 1693.


Cuper intended to publish a complete account of the expedition to Palmyra, together with a historical commentary, after having translated the original manuscript from English into Latin -- as few continental European scholars of the time could read English.  Thomas Smith himself was aware of this project: he announced in Philosophical Transactions of 1695, that the accounts published in that volume were meant to be nothing more than "a not unpleasant appetizer until the well-known and very learned man, Cuper, shall publish additional material....".  Because this never happened, the reports in Philosophical Transactions remain the first published accounts of the journey to Palmyra. 

Yes, but the painting, you say.  What about the painting?  Who painted it?  How and where did he do it?  Did he travel to Pamyra with Halifax in 1691? Why was his name not given in the official report? 

So many questions ... and they do have answers. 

We'll elucidate the Mystery of who was the first to paint Palmyra in Part II of this post.  The solution could not be more timely.


* Among the vast number of manuscripts Huntington collected in Syria is an illustrated 12th-century manuscript on weaponry commissioned by Saladin for his own library. It is now one of the treasures of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

** The legend is erroneous, the view is not 'on the southern side' but from the north(east).

*** I have confirmed this date (online). There is some confusion about the date of the letter of July 1692 from Calckberner (referred to a little later); more of that in Part II. A report of Cuper's  French account was translated into English by John Ray in his Collection of Curious Travels and Voyages, printed in London in 1693; still beating the official report by two years.

Part II of this post: click here

Sources: - Gregorio Astengo, 'The rediscovery of Palmyra and its dissemination in Philosophical Transactions', Notes Rec R Soc Lond 2016 Sep 20, 70(3): 209–230, published online 2016 Mar 16.  
- A. J. Lake, The First Protestants in the Arab World: the contribution to Christian mission of the
English Aleppo chaplains ( 1597-1782 )
, diss. Australian College of Theology, 2015 (
www.staugustines.com.au/attachments/078_E-thesisAlepChap.pdf).
- Bianca Chen, 'Digging for Antiquities with Diplomats: Gisbert Cuper (1644-1716) and his Social Capital', Republic of Letters, Vol. 1/1, May 2009.
- M. Keblusek-B.V. Noldus Double Agents: Cultural and Political Brokerage in Early Modern Europe, Brill, 2011.
- William Halifax, 'A Relation of a Voyage from Aleppo to Palmyra in Syria....' Philosophical Transactions,1695, 83-110, Downloaded from http://rstl.royalsocietypublishing.org/

Illustrations

Top left: Map of Ottoman Syria , printed in Paris, 1696: Hubert Jaillot, Estats de l'empire du Grand Seigneur des Turcs, en Europe, en Asia, et en Afrique, divisé en tous ses Beglerbeglicz, ou gouvernments.

2nd left: Lithograph said to be based on William Halifax's on-the-spot sketch of Palmyra in 1691, published as Fig 28 in A.J. Lake diss. (see sources).  I have been unable to trace the original drawing.

Upper centre: Engraving, 'View of the ruins of Palmyra alias Tadmor: taken on the Southern Side',** published in Philosophical Transactions, 1695. Reprinted in Astengo (see sources), Fig. 1.

Middle centre: Inscription in the Palmyrene alphabet,  Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 217 (1695). Reprinted in Astengo (see sources), Fig. 2.

3rd left: Portrait of Gisbert Cuper as Mayor of Deventer, Gerard ter Borch, circa 1675; oil on copper. Historisch Museum Deventer.  Photo credit: Vereniging Rembrandt

4th left: Portrait of Gisbert Cuper,  Painted by Jan de Baen between 1681-1689. Collectie Historisch Museum Deventer. Photo credit: Stichting Jacob Campo Weyerman

Bottom centre: Oil painting, The Ruins of Palmyra, sent to Gisbert Cuper in 1693. Photo credit: Allard Pierson Museum, Amsterdam.

08 August 2016

A LEADING LADY IN ELEPHANTINE ON THE NILE (Part II)

(Click here for Part I of this post)

How a modest ceramic bowl became immodestly important

This ceramic bowl once contained fresh food as an offering to an honoured dead person, a revitalizing snack, as it were, served up by a relative or funerary priest.  The bowl was found in Tomb QH33 (Qubbet el-Hawat) at the bottom of the southern shaft just beside the wall that had closed the western burial chamber (plan, below left).  The bowl bears an ink inscription written in the hieratic script declaring the name and proud title of the deceased: 
               Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor
The title "Daughter of the Governor" ranked near the top of the provincial tree, following the example set by the royal house, in dignity just one level down from the more exalted "King’s daughter".  A noble "Daughter of the Governor" always retained her title regardless of marrying a man belonging to another family; she would always be identified, first and foremost, as a member of the ruling family -- even until death and into the afterlife, as was the case with Lady Sattjeni, daughter of the Governor Sarenput II. 

Because the inscribed bowl was left just outside her funeral chamber, we can be sure that Lady Sattjeni was the woman whose body was found, mummified and wrapped in linen, in the beautiful double cedar coffin, inside the chamber.

Painted double Eyes of Horus (Wadjet), symbol of protection, royal power, and good health.
The inner coffin is  decorated with hieroglyphics and the double Eyes of Horus, the 'Wadjet'.  The 'Wadjet' would protect her soul both in the tomb and in the afterlife.

A Mummy's Story

Lady Sattjeni's life story illustrates the importance of women in the provincial ruling dynasty when, as happened at Elephantine, the male line went belly-up, leaving no direct male heirs. Her brother, Ankhu (as we saw in Part I) was old enough to have organized his father's funeral and to have inherited the title of Governor, but he died very soon afterwards, leaving his two sisters behind.  So the right to rule the southernmost province of Upper Egypt had now to pass through a "Daughter of the Governor", in order to maintain the blood line of their great-grandfather, the dynasty's founder.  

First into the breach was Sattjeni's elder sister, Gaut-Anuket.  Her task  was precisely to produce male children. She married a certain Heqaib (II) who was not a member of ruling family, but who was raised to the office of governor on the basis of his wife's lineage.  Gaut-Anuket was as good as her loins, and produced a son, Heqaib-Ankh. Unfortunately, she died while Heqaib-Ankh was still a child, thus thrusting the burden of dynastic legitimacy onto her younger sister, Sattjeni. With brother and elder sister dead,  Sattjeni was the last heiress standing on behalf of her deceased father, Sarenput II.  In short, the inheritance rights of the dynasty now flowed through her veins.

Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano, the Egyptologist who led the excavation of Tomb QH33, recaps what happened next: 

Heqaib III in royal pose
Then the governor Heqaib II married his wife’s younger sister, Sattjeni (V) or vice-versa, she married him. [my emphasis]. Sattjeni had at least two more children, Heqaib III and Ameny-Seneb, who would later become governors of Elephantine.  Once Heqaib II passed away, his eldest son Heqaib-Ankh automatically became governor of Elephantine.  After Heqaib-Ankh’s [untimely] death, his stepbrother Heqaib III received the rule of Elephantine through the inheritance of his mother, Sattjeni, Sarenput II’s daughter. 

When Heqaib III died, her younger son Ameny-Seneb succeeded to the office in turn.  Sattjeni and her sister had served their family well, and so smoothed the succession over a period of some 30 years. However, there's a hint that all was not beer and skittles in Elephantine with perhaps some nasty sibling rivalry between the brothers. And, even a suggestion of skulduggery.

To understand what happened, we look at their tomb.


QH33* consists of an immense unfinished courtyard that leads to a giant door almost five meters across (16.5') and into an equally wide corridor which enters a monumental hall with six square pillars.

The most sacred part of the tomb is the shrine, the Naos, which was constructed in the centre of the western wall of the hall.  This is where the consecrated statue of the governor would be placed, to receive eternal offerings from his family, descendants, and a coterie of funerary priests. All the naoi in the tombs at Qubbet el-Hawa were constructed specifically for the funerary cult of a governor and for no one else; furthermore, a governor was buried in a subterranean chamber below his naos.

Reconstruction of a funerary statue in its naos
The northern naos of QH33 is the largest and most magnificent among the Middle Kingdom shrines in the necropolis. It is richly decorated with all the necessary elements (jambs, architrave, cavetto cornice and niche; a sampling of which is seen, left). There can be no doubt that this was where the governor who built QH33 had planned to install his statue and near where he would be buried.

It didn't work out that way.  

He was usurped.

Along the same wall, there is a second (southern) naos, much simpler than the first -- really just a hollow -- without any architectural embellishment. This makes QH33 unique among the Governors' tombs in the necropolis, in having two naoi: the rest of have just one.  A five-metre-long shaft (16') descends from the southern naos to two burial chambers below. The western chamber lies precisely below the naos.  Inside was a badly decayed coffin containing the body of a 28-30 year-old male, and his mummy mask (below, left). Luckily, some wood at the head of the coffin survived and on it was written the name of the deceased -- Heqaib.

Mummy mask of Heqaib III
Since naoi at Qubbet el-Hawa were constructed only for the funerary cult of governors, and this burial was directly under the southern naos, it is obvious that this Heqaib must be the deceased governor Heqaib III, Lady Sattjeni's elder son.  Q.E.D.

Which raises the question: who was buried in the 12-metre deep (40') main northern shaft? 



His younger brother Ameny-Seneb, that's who.

What must have happened is this.

When Heqaib III became Governor, he began the construction of his future tomb, QH33.  He did not live to finish it (indeed, he died, as we now know, before he was 30). So his brother and successor went on with the work but, despite the rights of primogeniture, he appropriated the best location for his own burial. So, down the deep main shaft, in the chambers that the archaeologists are still excavating, must lie the body of the second-born son. Naturally, Ameny-Seneb could hardly bury his elder brother without governatorial honours: so he constructed a southern naos, which had not been part of the original tomb plan, and usurped for himself his brother's shrine, the bigger and better naos

But these are not the only surprises hidden in QH33. 

As time went on, Ameny-Seneb was also called upon to bury (at least) one of his step-brothers.  For, after the death of Heqaib II, our Lady Sattjeni had remarried. If her choice of first husband was somewhat eccentric -- marrying her elder sister's widower -- what are we to think of her second marriage, to an official named Dedu-Amen, an individual of negroid [Nubian] ethnicity? The couple had two sons, a Sarenput (named after her father) and Amenemhat (after the reigning pharaoh), both of whom would have shared the negroid features of their father, Dedu-Amen.  

And so it proved to be.  

Mummy bandage mentioning Sarenput's mother
Archaeologists recently found Sarenput's burial chamber in the north-east corner of the courtyard of QH33. He had been buried in a magnificent coffin, now greatly decayed, but most of the hieroglyphic texts on the fringes were preserved, giving the title and the name of the owner: 'The Overseer of the House, Sarenput'.  And, on a scrap of mummy bandage (left), his filiation, 'begotten of Sattjeni'. 

Bio-anthropological study of his mummy puts his age at death at about 25 years and confirms that his ethnic type is negroid -- in contrast to his step-brother Heqaib III, who was of Mediterranean type. Since Sarenput and Heqaib III had the same mother (Sattjeni), the ethnic difference can only be explained by their having had two different fathers: Heqaib III (son of Heqaib II), and Sarenput (son of Dedu-Amen).

The mixing of ethnic types at the highest level of the local elite is surprising (to put it mildly). Even though many Nubians lived within the borders of Upper Egypt, Egyptians normally did not think well of foreigners. Nubians, like other foreigners, were generally despised, at least in their literature:
Attack is valour, retreat is cowardice. A coward is he who is driven from his border. Since the Nubian listens to the word of mouth, to answer him is to him retreat. Attack him, he will turn his back. Retreat, he will start attacking. They are not people one respects. They are wretched, craven-hearted (Boundary stela of Senusret III, 12th dynasty)
These are, however, are stereotyped insults and, obviously, did not stop a 'Daughter of the Governor' from marrying into what must have been an Egyptianized Nubian family.** If her purpose was to increase the supply of eligible male heirs, keeping the dynasty alive through the female line, as Prof. Jiménez-Serrano suggests, she must have believed that their mixed background would not hinder them from taking their place at the top of provincial society.  

Statue of Khakaure-Seneb
As it happens neither son from this marriage became governor. When Sarenput died, his step-brother was still ruling Elephantine, and we know nothing of his brother Amenemhat. The last governor of Elephantine was Khakaure-Seneb (left), almost certainly the son of Ameny-Seneb, thus most likely a direct male heir. He would have been Lady Sattjeni's grandson, and, what really mattered, a descendent of Sarenput I, through the direct and unbroken female line. 

Sattjeni had done her duty to her dynasty. Perhaps her second marriage to Dedu-Amen was her private choice and, I hope, a happy one.





* Visit QH33 on a virtual tour at the project website of PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA.

** I know of only one comparable case: At Middle Kingdom royal necropolis of Dahshur, two stelae were found inscribed with the names of women "who might be concubines of the king, high status female servants, or the wives of some officials also buried at Dahshur or elsewhere. At least one of them was Nubian and seems to be an interesting case of a foreigner in Egypt at a higher social level than expected." (W.Grajetzki, Court Officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, London, 2009, 168).  Also, Grajetzki notes (p. 135) that, at the very end of the Middle Kingdom -- i.e. near the time of Lady Sattjeni -- foreigners do appear in the highest state positions.

Sources

As in Part I, plus A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Middle Kingdom Funerary Statues of Governors in Qubbet El-Hawa' in (N. Castellano, et.al. eds) Ex Aegypto lux et sapientia: Homenatge al professor Josep Padró Parcerisa, Barcelona, 2015, 321-34 L. Torok, Between Two Worlds: The Frontier Region etween Nubia and Egypt, 3700 BC- AD 500, Brill, 2009; W.Grajetzki, Court Officials of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, London, 2009.

Illustrations

Upper left: Ceramic bowl with ink inscription giving name and title of Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor.  Photo credit:  J.C. Sánchez-León & A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Sattjeni: Daughter, Wife and Mother of the Governors of Elephantine during the End of the Twelfth Dynasty',  ZÄS 2015, Fig. 2; Photographer: Raúl Fernández Ruiz.

Centre: Inner coffin of Lady Sattjeni in Tomb QH33. Photo credit: In Photos: 3,800-Year-Old Coffin Holds Ancient Egyptian Woman, Live Science, June 2, 2016

Middle left: Granite statue of Heqaib III, kneelng and offering two vases, an attitude which is normally reserved exclusively for kings. Granite. End of 12th dynasty. Sanctuary of Heqaib. Elephantine island. Photo credit: © Stéphane Compoint

Lower left 1: Plan of QH33.  Photo credit: after  J.C. Sánchez-León & A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Sattjeni: Daughter, Wife and Mother of the Governors of Elephantine during the End of the Twelfth Dynasty',  ZÄS 2015, Plan 1 (Designed by Juan Luis Martínez de Dios).

Lower left 2: Ideal reconstruction of the statue of Sarenput II in its original place (Drawings © Ana Belén Jiménez) in A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Middle Kingdom Funerary Statues of Governors in Qubbet El-Hawa' (Sources, above) Fig. 3.

Lower left 3: Mummy mask of Heqaib III.  Photo credit: PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA 

Lower left 4: Fragmentary mummy bandage mentioning the filiation of Heqaib III ('begotten of Sattjeni').  Photo credit: J.C. Sánchez-León & A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Sattjeni: Daughter, Wife and Mother of the Governors of Elephantine during the End of the Twelfth Dynasty',  ZÄS 2015, Fig.5.

Lowest left: Statue of Khakaure-Seneb in the Nubian Museum, Aswan. Photo credit: © Gregory Gulik.

24 July 2016

A LEADING LADY IN ELEPHANTINE ON THE NILE

Meet Lady Sattjeni, daughter of Governor Sarenput the younger.

I'd love to be able to tell you what she looked like ... but, really, I can't. Her funerary mask (left) was too badly damaged. Anyway, the mask was never intended to be a true likeness. Portraiture was not the point.

Still, it would have at least shown us how she would have liked to be remembered. 

Even without seeing her face, however, the archaeologists who discovered her tomb earlier this year knew right away that she was a very important and noble woman.

The excavation was led by Prof. Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano from the University of Jaén in Spain.  Work began in 2013, when:
... we discovered the upper part of a chamber, which belonged to a tomb that was probably quarried in the Byzantine period (fifth century A.D.).... [We] thought that the area was disturbed. However, that chamber at the end was not a chamber, but the beginning of a shaft. During this year [2016], we began the excavation of the shaft, and the more that we excavated, the more we got the sensation that a great discovery might appear ... and it appeared! The worker called me, and I went to the bottom of the shaft, where there was a tiny aperture. With a torch, I could have a look inside....

The coffin which he saw through the hole belonged to a woman named Sattjeni, or 'Lady Sattjeni' as she would have been called, for she was of noble birth.

She announced herself (left) to the world of the dead as 

Sattjeni, Daughter of the Governor [of Elephantine]

Happily, this woman was known from other local contexts, which allowed the archaeologists to reconstruct the genealogy of the rulers of Elephantine during the later Twelfth Dynasty -- and to pinpoint Sattjeni's pivotal role in that history.

 So, first, a little background on her family and home.


The lady was buried in the necropolis at Qubbet el-Hawa (above) across the Nile from Elephantine (modern Aswan; Ta-Seti: 'land of the bow' in pharaonic times); which
was the southernmost province of Egypt.*  This is the cemetery where the governors of Elephantine built their tombs. During the 12th Dynasty (ca. 1991-1802 BCE), they constructed huge funerary complexes for themselves and their closest relatives.  Members of their courts (officials and servants) were interred nearby in smaller and less-decorated tombs. 

A Local Dynasty

Governors ranked just below the pharaoh's royal family and, indeed, they often behaved like little kings within their own territory.  Today, we would call them princes -- even though (in theory at least) each and every governor was appointed by the pharaoh and served at his pleasure.  In that sense, the office, with its princely title, wasn't hereditary.  However, the royal Residence at Memphis was far away to the north, and the 'law of political inertia' was strong, so soon, very early in the 12th Dynasty, a local dynasty arose in Elephantine to govern the province.  The office didn't always pass from father to son, but it did stay within the family. 

Elephantine was a boom town at the time, profiting from Egyptian expansion across the southern border into Nubia.  The province was the jumping-off point for military expeditions -- usually aimed against the warlike Nubian kingdom centred on Kerma, south of the third cataract on the Nile. The governors of Elephantine led these expeditions; on their return, some of the booty and tribute was bound to stick locally.  Nubia was also the transit point for African products like gold, ivory, and slaves -- almost all of which were imported into Egypt via Elephantine.  

Who was Who?

SARENPUT I 

The founder of the Elephantine dynasty was Sarenput the elder (left) who built himself a gigantic and gorgeously decorated tomb at Qubbet el-Hawa, one of the largest, most beautiful non-royal tombs found anywhere during the Middle Kingdom.  Sarenput's elevation to high office was due to his family's close ties with the royal court in Memphis. The pharaoh at that time was Senusret I (1971-1926 BCE).  We know, for example, that he gave Sarenput a gift of 300 servants and also sent royal craftsmen to help build the governor's tomb. 

In addition to important religious functions,** Sarenput accumulated political power: he was Royal Chancellor+, Governor of the Foreign Lands, and Chief of the Egyptianized Nubians (the subdued populations between the first and second cataract) in the lands then being conquered by Pharaoh Senusret. 

A biographical inscription in Sarenput's tomb shows how he vaunted himself: 

Sarenput I and his wife (?)
I have built my tomb to show my gratitude to the king  [Senusret I]. His majesty made me great in the land. 

I have overturned very ancient rules and it resulted that I reached the sky in an instant....

His Majesty saw to it that I could have a good life. I was full of joy at having succeeded in reaching the sky, my head touched the firmament, I grazed the stars. I appeared like a star. I danced like the planets, my town celebrated and my troops were jubilant.


SARENPUT II

His grandson, Sarenput the younger, was the next governor.  Sarenput II's mother was Hetepet, a daughter of the elder Sarenput, and his father was a man named Khema. Unfortunately, we know nothing more about Khema; perhaps he died quite young.***

Sarenput II was governor for at least 40 years. In addition to a host of religious functions,** he also served as Royal Chancellor+ and boasted two further military distinctions: "King's confidant [who is in the heart of the King] in marshalling troops to the districts of the South", and Chief of the Army in the south. 

Sarenput I
Sarenput II's tomb has been aptly described as "an architectural jewel".  His titles and functions are displayed on the tomb's rear walls (left, and below left). Strikingly, his second name was Nubkaurenakht ("Strong is Nubkaure"), the same as the throne name of Pharaoh Amenemhat II (1929-1895 BCE). This name appears twice on the wall as a cartouche of the reigning Pharaoh -- an extraordinary demonstration of the power that Sarenput considered himself to hold in his province.  

This painting is in the focal point of the tomb chapel.  It shows the seated governor extending his hand towards a table piled-up with offerings.  His son, Ankhu, stands behind the table and presents his father with an open lotus flower, symbol of rebirth.  Ankhu's small size is conventional: he must have already been of age since, as the painting implies, he was in charge of his father's funeral.  Adulthood is confirmed by the next painting in the rear chapel, on which Ankhu is given the title of  'Governor'.

Sarenput I, Ankhu, and wife (?)
This shows Sarenput holding the reed and sceptre symbols of power as he advances, with Ankhu behind him, towards a woman, presumably his wife (the name is lost; her title is 'priestess in the temple of Satet' [goddess of Elephantine]).  On the opposite wall, the governor's mother, Hetepet, also a 'priestess in the temple of Satet', sits before a full offering table. She is portrayed in a much choicer spot and larger than her presumed daughter-in-law, which suggests an altogether higher status. Very possibly, her distinction reflects her importance as the elder Sarenput's daughter. It might also mean that she was the direct source of her son's rank and office.  In other words, in this case at least, the office may have descended through the female line.  

And therein lies a tale. 

For we now have rare insight into what happened next. 

Heqaib II, son of Sathathor
Ankhu, the son, described as 'Governor' in his father's tomb, disappears from history.  The silence of the sources probably means that he died not long after his father.  Lacking other male heirs, this untimely death provoked a dynastic crisis in the ruling family which was only resolved when a man named Heqaib (II) became Governor.  We know very little about Heqaib II [don't worry about Heqaib I: he lived much earlier, and doesn't enter our story].  His parents are named as Khunes and Sathathor -- neither of whom were part of Sarenput II's immediate family. Thus, Heqaib II became governor not because of any blood ties to the ruling family, but because of his spouse. 

For, in addition to the son who died so young, Sarenput II had two daughters. The elder was Gaut-Anuket (an unusual name inherited from her great-great-great grandmother [grandmother of Sarenput I!]), and it was she who married Heqaib II -- thus raising him to the highest position in the province.  

In effect, he married the boss' daughter.

Their son, Heqaib-Ankh, would become Heqaid II's successor as governor -- but that event was still far in the future.  Now, while Heqaib-Ankh was still a child, Gaut-Anuket suddenly died and the dynasty again faced a crisis.

Perhaps Heqaid II was dynastically weak without his wife. Perhaps the Sarenput clan had another candidate for governor, or one might imagine that other clans of Elephantine were vieing for the highest office. We simply don't know.  But the next move was simply extraordinary: Sarenput II's younger daughter rode to his rescue.  She married her elder sister's widower, thereby restoring his legitimacy and underwriting his power.  

That slightly incestuous younger sister was Sattjeni. 

Yes, that's the Sattjeni we want: Sattjeni V (as she is known to Egyptologists).

 ... daughter of one governor, now wife of another and soon to be mother of two more. 

Lots of blue blood flowed in her veins.  And her bloodline was unusually pure: as a granddaughter of Sarenput II's mother, Hetepet, she was also in the direct female line of descent from the dynasty's founder, Sarenput I.  So, just as Hetepet may have passed the office of governor to her son, and Heqaid II reached the top through marriage to Sarenput II's elder daughter, Gaut-Anuket, just so, his second marriage to Sattjeni kept him in office.  His son, in turn, survived to become governor, for once a direct male heir.

It certainly looks like power in Elephantine, in the absence of direct male heirs, descended through the female line, just as it did in the royal pharaonic family. 

Who they married would rule.

Sattjeni has now become the pivotal figure in the dynasty.  We'll read more about what she did in 'What Happened Next?', the second part of this post.  Believe me, there's a real surprise at the end.

(Part II of this post, click here)


* Egyptologists call the provinces nomes (after the later Greek name) so their governors are known as nomarchs.

** The governors of Elephantine had, of course, major religious functions and religious offices.  The main local deities whom they served were Khnum, god of the first cataract and the annual flood; his consort Satet, Mistress of Elephantine; and the deified Old Kingdom expedition leader, Heqaib, who was a kind of local 'patron saint'.  It is only to keep this blog post within reasonable bounds -- and not because it is unimportant -- that I omit any discussion of their religious titles, duties, and offerings.

*** Khema possibly served very briefly as governor between the two Sarenputs. One imposing, still unexplored early 12th Dynasty tomb in the Qubbet el-Hawa cemetery (QH 32) might belong to him or to another important yet-to-be-identified figure.

+  My curiosity piqued by Demetrios' comment (see below), I ran down the original texts.  The title normally translated as 'Chancellor' is more literally 'seal-bearer' , i.e. he who wields the seal of the pharaoh.
From R. Landgráfová, Topic-Focus Articulation in Biographical Inscriptions and Letters of the Middle Kingdom (Dynasties 11 – 12), diss. Univerzita Karlova, Prague, 2007.

Sources

PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA (Universidad de Jaén).  J.C. Sánchez-León & A. Jiménez-Serrano, 'Sattjeni: Daughter, Wife and Mother of the Governors of Elephantine during the End of the Twelfth Dynasty',  ZÄS 2015, 142, 154–166;  H. Willems, The Coffin of Heqata: A Case Study of Egyptian Funerary Culture of the Early Middle Kingdom (Leuven, 1996); OsirisNet: Tomb of Sarenput I and Sarenput II; D. Raue, The Sanctuary of Heqaib; S. Pappas, 'Who Was Sattjeni? Tomb Reveals Secrets About Ancient Egyptian Elite', Live Science; and the blog, History Things;

Illustrations

Top left: funerary mask of Lady Sattjeni.  Photo credit: Exhuman la momia de Sattjeni, una dama de la dinastía XII

Above centre: cedar inner coffin holding Lady Sattjeni. Photo credit:  Exhuman la momia de Sattjeni, una dama de la dinastía XII

Second centre: Panorama of Qubbet El-Hawa cemetery (with the ruins of a Coptic monastery built into the tombs and on the summit). Photo credit: PROYECTO QUBBET EL-HAWA

2nd and 3rd left: Two reliefs in the tomb chapel of Sarenput I.  Photo credit: OsirisNet: Tomb of Sarenput I

4th and 5th left: Two paintings from the tomb chapel of Sarenput II.  Photo credit: OsirisNet: to of Sarenput II

Bottom left: Black granite statue of Heqaib II, Son of Sathathor. Photo credit: D. Raue, The Sanctuary of Heqaib. UCLA Encyclopaedia of Egyptology, 12-03-2014, Fig. 11.


11 May 2016

Writing Tablets from Ancient Palmyra (Part II): "The Forgotten Island"

Part I of this post, click here

Where in the world is Socotra?

Desert rose (adenium obesium)
Situated smack in the middle of nowhere, in the Indian Ocean 250 km/155 miles east of Somalia and 340 km/210 miles from the coast of Yemen (to which it now belongs).  Socotra is a weirdly wonderful  island, with wide sandy beaches, karst limestone  plateaus full of caves (some as long as 7 km/4.3 miles) and mist-shrouded mountains rising to 1525m/5000' high. 

The climate is ghastly: hot, harsh, and
windswept at the best of times.  The summer monsoon is far from the best  of times: from June to September, the island is so battered by fierce winds that, even today,  maritime traffic comes to a dead halt. Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Portuguese, and British mariners all tried to establish a permanent base on the island -- and all gave up because it was just too horrible. A place so utterly isolated makes it, though, a happy home for a great number of strange plants and animals, many of them endemic to the island (i.e., found only here). 
Dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari)
Over a third of the species of flowering plant on the island are endemic. Not only are they unique to Socotra, but devilishly bizarre to boot.  What is one to make of such botanical oddities such as these?

Cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotranus)
Take the fat Desert Rose (adenium obesium), pictured at the top of the post -- if that isn't the original Triffid, I don't know what is! 

Or the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotranus, left) -- and yes, it is related to the creeping vines of the cucumber and pickles family).

Or
'Kartab' (Dorstenia gigas)
the dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari, above centre); a tree that has no wood in it but its trunk and branches are made of a strange spongey substance so, when the tree dies, it falls to dust. 

Or the Dorstenia gigas, left, otherwise known only by the Socotran name of 'Kartab', meaning 'dried out, withered; stunted' (and I can see why) -- a plant that apparently doesn't require any soil and sinks roots straight into the bare rock.

But I don't really want to talk about Socotra's botany, fascinating though it is, but rather about one of its caves:   

The al-Hoq cave, on the side of a cliff about 300 m above the sea on the northeast coast of the island.  Its entrance is impressive.

  

The cave was first explored by Belgian speleologists less than 15 years ago.  The spelunkers found plenty of ancient pottery in the two long galleries inside (1200m/1300 yards; 800m/900 yards long), mostly containers used to collect water that dripped from the ceiling into natural basins. Much more remarkable were the grafitti found scratched into the walls of the shorter gallery by sailors and merchants who took refuge on the island when the monsoon winds unexpectedly turned against them.  As far as they can be read, some 250 inscriptions record men's names scrawled in the scripts of ancient India (Brāhmī), Ethiopia (Guèze), Yemen (S. Arabian), and Bactria -- all written between the 1st and 6th centuries CE.*  

Pieces of at least 20 incense burners were found nearby, which means that the names were not meant simply to record their presence ('Kilroy Was Here') but to call out to, or remember themselves to their gods.  One of the few longer texts makes this clear.  Written in  ancient S. Arabian, it reads: 'Abdsiyà came here and you [the god] remained hidden from him'.  I think what poor 'Abdsiyà is saying is: 'This is a god-forsaken place'.  Literally.

But that's not all, folks. 

There were two wooden tablets and one at least is written in clear Palmyrene.


As noted in Part I of this post, the only surviving wooden tablets from Palmyra itself are those seven written by a schoolboy practicing his Greek.  And, now, we have a genuine tablet (below) written in the cursive Palmyrene script by a named adult man who had landed on Socotra and entered the Hoq cave.  The extra-large tablet (50 x 20 cm/20"x 8")  must have been made elsewhere for there is no wood on Socotra.  We can imagine that he came with a supply of tablets to use on his journey, making notes or contracts whenever and where they were needed. Socotra was probably the last thing on his mind when he set out from Palmyra on the long, long journey to India (see the map above right; click for a larger picture).  But this is where the monsoon took him, and he left the tablet carefully placed against a stalagmite (below). We don't know who wrote the second tablet, as it fell face down and no writing is preserved; but that, too, had been specially positioned, originally leaning against a small mound with an incense burner on top.

Happily, the first tablet is legible ... 

... and this is what it says:

In the month of Tammuz, day 25 of the year 569, I, Abgar, son of Abbshamay, 'navigator'[or 'emissary'], have come here, to the country of Nysy; bless the god who has brought us here, and you, the man who reads this tablet, bless me [us] as well and leave the tablet in this place [where you find it]. 

The date is exact: the 25th day of the Semitic month of Tammuz in the year 569 = July 258 CE.

Who is this Abgar?

Though the odds are hugely against it, there's a very good chance that we know something about Abgar's family.   His father's name Abbshamay means "servant of Heaven", so they were probably worshippers of the Palmyran god, Balshamin (whose small, perfect temple was blown up by ISIS last year).  The name is only known at Palmyra in two inscriptions, both from the tomb of Nasrallât in the southwest necropolis. The inscriptions are dated to 574 (262-263 CE) et 576 (264-265 CE), and both refer to a Julius Aurelius Yedibêl, son of 'Abdshamaya', son of Malkû.  Given the rarity of the family name as well as the closeness in dates, it seems more than likely that Abgar and Yedibêl are related, possibly even brothers.

Alas, it is unlikely that our Abgar made it back to Palmyra.  At least, he seems not to have been buried in the family tomb. Someone so literate that he asks for a blessing from his god on the forgotten island of Socotra, and writes it in a very nice hand, would surely have left a funerary inscription for us to read.  

Even if his god didn't save him, at least those who read his plea left his tablet where he had placed it, just as he had asked them to do. 

You can't ask for more than that on Socotra. 

 

 * Now published in Ingo Strauch [ed.]:Foreign Sailors on Socotra : the Inscriptions and Drawings from the Cave Hoq, Bremen : Ute Hempen Verlag.

Sources and Illustrations

Ch. Robin, Maria Gorea, Les vestiges antiques de la grotte de Hôq (Suqutra, Yémen)
(note d'information).  In: Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 146e année, N. 2, 2002. pp. 409-445. The blogs The Dark Roasted Blend , Travel to Socotra , Socotra, Dream Island.


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