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Ancient Egypt: The Semna Stelae of Senusret III
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Map of Nubia

The Semna Stelae of Senusret III

Stela from year 8

- ca. 1870 BCE
The word West is written at the stela's top.
1 Southern boundary, made in the year 8, under the majesty of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, Khekuer, who is given life forever 2 and ever; in order to prevent that any Negro should cross it, by water or 3 by land, with a ship, (or) any herds 4 of the Negroes; except a Negro who shall come to do trading in Iken, 5 or with a commission. Every good thing shall be done with them, but without allowing 6 a ship of the Negroes to pass Heh, going downstream, forever.

J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, § 652f.

Display Lepsius' drawing of the first stela in a new window.
-Khekuer: Khakaure, Senusret III.
-Negro: Lichtheim: Nubian.
-Iken: Unidentified trading post (possibly Mirgissa) north of the boundary at Heh.
-Heh: Semna. Lichtheim: The identification of ancient Heh with modem Semna rests first on the fact that two of the three boundary stelae (all of which name Heh as the boundary), were found at Semna, and the third just north of Semna at Uronarti.

Stela from year 16

ca. 1862 BCE
1 Live the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, ..... 2  ..... Sesostris (III), who is given life, stability, satisfaction forever.
Display Lepsius' drawing of the second stela in a new window. -..... ..... Sesostris (III): The full titulary of Senusret III.
3 Year 16, third month of the second season, (occurred) his majesty's making the southern boundary as far as Heh (HH). 4 I have made my boundary beyond (that) of my fathers; I have 5 increased that which was bequeathed to me.
I am a king who speaks and executes; that which my heart conceives 6 is that which comes to pass by my hand; (one who is) eager to possess and [powerful (?)] to 7 [/// (?)]; not allowing a matter to sleep in his heart ...... 8 ...... [attacking him who attacks (?)], silent in a matter, or 9 answering a matter according to that which is in it; since, if one is silent after attack, it strengthens 10 the heart of the enemy. Valiance is eagerness, cowardice is to slink back; he is truly craven 11 who is repelled upon his border; since the Negro hearkens [to (?)] the [/// (?)] of the mouth; 12 it is answering him which drives him back; when one is eager against him, he turns his back; when one slinks back, he begins to be eager. 13 But they are not a people of might, they are poor and broken in heart. 14 My majesty has seen them; it is not an untruth.
-Year 16, third month of the second season: Julian date: May, ca.1862 BCE
-my boundary beyond (that) of my fathers: The Egyptian incursions into Nubia began in the Old Kingdom, generally in the guise of 'retaliatory' raids or trading expeditions. Senusret I conquered lower Nubia, Senusret III built fortifications along the Nile up to the second cataract. Cf. The Subjugation of Nubia.
-hearkens [to (?)] the [/// (?)] of the mouth: Lichtheim: listens to the word of mouth
-people of might: Lichtheim: people one respects
I captured their women, I carried off 15 their subjects, went forth to their wells, smote their bulls; I reaped their grain, and 16 set fire thereto.
(I swear) as my father lives for me, I speak in truth without a lie therein, 17 coming out of my mouth.
-reaped: Lichtheim: cut down
-set fire thereto: Senusret, like others before and after him, pursued a policy of scorched earth. Just how complete the destruction was is unclear, but it seems to have been mostly unsuccessful. Pacification of Nubia occurred when the local elite became Egyptianized.
Now, as for every son of mine who shall maintain this boundary, 18 which my majesty has made, he is my son, he is born to my majesty, the likeness of a son who is the champion of his father, 19 who maintains the boundary of him who begat him. Now, as for him who shall relax it, and shall not fight 20 for it; he is not born to me. -shall relax it: Lichtheim: abandons it
Now, behold, my majesty caused a statue 21 of my majesty to be made upon this boundary, which my majesty made; in order the ye might prosper because of it, and in order that ye might fight for it. -ye might prosper: Lichtheim: you maintain it
-for it: for the boundary.

J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part One, §§ 656ff.


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September 2004