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Ancient Egypt: Merneptah's campaign in Canaan
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[Map: Merneptah's campaign in Canaan]
Merneptah's campaign in Canaan
 

Hymn of Merneptah
The "Israel Stela"

Year 5, third month of the third season (eleventh month), third day, under the majesty of Horus: Mighty Bull, Rejoicing in Truth; King of Upper and Lower Egypt: Binre-Meriamon, Son of Re: Merneptah-Hotephirma, magnifying might, exalting victorious sword of Horus, Mighty Bull, smiter of the Nine Bows [5], whose name is given forever and ever.
 
His victories are published in all lands, to cause that every land together may see, to cause the glory of his conquests to appear; King Merneptah, the Bull, lord of strength, who slays his foes, beautiful upon the field of victory, when his onset occurs; the Sun, driving away the storm which was over Egypt, allowing Egypt to see the rays of the sun, removing the mountain of copper from the neck of the people so that he might give breath to the people who were smothered. He gratified the heart of Memphis on their foes, making Tatenen rejoice over his enemies. He opened the gates of the walled city which were stopped up, and caused his temples to receive their food (even), King Merneptah, the unique one, who establishes the hearts of hundreds of thousands of myriads, so that breath enters into their nostrils at the sight of him. He has penetrated the land of Temeh in his lifetime, and put eternal fear in the heart of the Meshwesh. He has turned back Libya, who invaded Egypt, and great fear of Egypt is in their hearts.
 
Their advanced columns they left behind them, their feet made no stand, but fled. Their archers threw down their bows, and the heart of their fleet ones was weary with marching. They loosed their water skins and threw them to the ground, their (sacks) were taken and thrown out.
 
The wretched, fallen chief of Libya, fled by favor of night alone, with no plume upon his head, his two feet [failed]. His women were taken before his face, the grain of his supplies was plundered, and he had no water in the skin to keep him alive. The face of his brothers was hostile to slay him, one fought another among his leaders. Their camp was burned and made a roast, all his possessions were food for the troops. When he arrived in his country, he was the complaint of every one in his land. [Ashamed], he bowed himself down, an evil fate removed (his) plume. They all spoke against him, among the inhabitants of his city: "He is in the power of the gods, the lords of Memphis; the lord of Egypt has cursed his name, Meryey, the abomination of Memphis, from son to son of his family, forever. Binre-Meriamon is in pursuit of his children, Merneptah-Hotephirma is appointed to be his fate."
 
He has become a proverb for Libya; the youth say to youth, concerning his victories: "It has not been done to us [before] since the time of Re," say they. Every old man says to his son: "Alas for Libya!" They have ceased to live in the pleasant fashion of walking in the field; their going about is stopped in a single day. The Tehenu are consumed in a single year. Sutekh has turned his back upon their chief; their settlements are desolated with his [consent]. There is no work of carrying [baskets] in these days. Concealment is good; there is safety in the cavern. The great lord of Egypt, possessor of might and victory! Who will fight, knowing his stride? The fool, the witless is he who receives him; he shall not know the morrow, who transgresses his boundary.
 
Since the time of the gods, say they, Egypt has been the only daughter of Re; his son is he who sits upon the throne of Shu. No one can make a design to invade her people, for the eye of every god is behind him who would violate her; it (the eye) captures the rear of her foes. . . . A great wonder has happened for Egypt, the power of which has made her invader a living prisoner. The divine king [exults] over his enemies, in the presence of Re. Meryey, the evil-doer, whom the god, the lord who is in Memphis, has overthrown, he has been judged with him in Heliopolis, and the divine Ennead declared him guilty of his crimes.
 
The All-Lord has said: "Give the sword to my son, the upright of heart, the good and kindly Merneptah, the [champion] on behalf of Memphis, the advocate of Heliopolis, who opens the towns that were closed up. Let him set free multitudes who are bound in every district, let him give offerings to the temples, let him send in incense before the god, let him cause the princes to [recover] their possessions, let him cause the poor to [re-enter] their cities."
 
They say among the lords of Heliopolis regarding their son, Merneptah: "Give to him duration like Re, let him be advocate of him who is oppressed in every country. Egypt has been assigned to him as the portion of [him who has gained it] for himself forever. His strength is its people. Lo, when one dwells in the time of this hero, the breath of life comes immediately . . . so they say.
 
Meryey, the wretched, vanquished chief of Libya, came to invade the "Walls-of-the-Sovereign" (Memphis), [who is its lord,] whose son shines in his throne, the King Merneptah. Ptah said concerning the vanquished (chief) of Libya: "All his crimes shall be gathered and returned upon his (own) head. Deliver him into the hand of Merneptah, that he may make him disgorge what he has swallowed, like a crocodile. Behold, the swift is the captor of the swift; and the king shall snare him, (though) his strength be known; for Amon shall bind him in his hand and shall deliver him to his ka in Hermonthis, (to him) the King Merneptah."
 
Great joy has come in Egypt, rejoicing comes forth from the towns of Tomeri. They converse of the victories which Merneptah has achieved among the Tehenu: "How amiable is he, the victorious ruler! How magnified is the king among the gods! How fortunate is he, the commanding lord! Sit happily down and talk, or walk far out upon the way, (for) there is no fear in the heart of the people. The strongholds are left to themselves, the wells are opened (again). The messengers [skirt] the battlements of the walls, shaded from the sun, until their watchmen wake. The soldiers lie sleeping, and the border scouts are in the field at their (own) desire. The herds of the field are left as cattle sent forth, without herdsmen, crossing (at will) the fullness of the stream. There is no uplifting of a shout in the night: 'Stop! Behold, one comes, one comes with the speech of strangers!" One comes and goes with singing, and there is no lamentation of mourning people. The towns are settled again anew; as for the one that ploweth his harvest, he shall eat it. Re has turned himself to Egypt; he was born, destined to be her protector, the King Merneptah."

  Source: J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, §§ 607ff

The princes are prostrate, saying: "Mercy!"
Not one raises his head among the Nine Bows [5].
Desolation is for Tehenu [1]; Hatti [2] is pacified;
Plundered is the Canaan with every evil;
Carried off is Ashkelon; seized upon is Gezer;
Yanoam is made as that which does not exist;
Isiral [3] is laid waste, his seed is not;
Hurru [4] is become a widow for Egypt!
All lands together, they are pacified;

Source: James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts. Princeton, 1969., pp. 376-378.

    While the friendly relations with Hatti continued, and Merneptah
sent him by ship grain during a time of famine in order to give life to the land of Hatti

Egypt came under attack from the fleets of the North by way of the western Delta in year 5 of Merneptah's reign. The Libu (after whom Libya was named), the Temhu and the Tehenu, the Akaiwasha, possibly a people close to the Achaeans equipped with helmets, body armour, iron or bronze swords and spears, and chariots closed in on the fortress Per-irt. After a six hour battle, during which Merneptah first deployed his archers and then his chariots, the invaders were defeated, thousands killed and 9000 fell prisoner.

    Unrest in Canaan was suppressed by force. The attempt of the Middle Eastern towns and peoples (the towns Yanoam, Ashkelon, Gezer, the peoples of Israel and Hurru) to regain their independence was foiled for the time being.


[1] Tehenu: Libya
[2] Hatti: The kingdom of the Hittites in Anatolia
[3] Isiral: The consensus identifies this with the people of Israel, though doubts have been raised on various grounds.
[4] Hurru: Syria
[5] Nine bows: Nine peoples, the composition of the Nine Bows changed over the centuries, until they were finally identified with foreign peoples exclusively.


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