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A Popular Account Of The Ancient Egyptians: Volumes 1&2 -Sir J. Gardner Wilkinson F.R.S.

IN the fourth class were included the workers in glass, metals, wood, and leather; the manufacturers of linen and various stuffs; dyers, tanners, carpenters, cabinet-makers, masons; and all who followed handicraft employments, or any kind of trade. The musicians, who gained their livelihood by singing and playing, the leather-cutters and the carvers in stone, and ordinary painters (distinct of course from sculptors and artists) were included in the same class, which was mostly composed of people living in towns. Each craft (as is generally the case in Modern Egypt also) had its own quarter of the town, called after it; as the quarter of the goldsmiths, of the leather-cutters, and others; and no one presumed to interfere with the occupation of a different trade from his own. It is even said that every one was obliged by law to follow the very same trade as his father; at all events, whether allowed in the beginning of his career to choose for himself or no, he was forced to continue in the one he first belonged to; and each vied with his neighbour in improving his own branch.

According to Diodorus, “no tradesman was permitted to meddle in political affairs, or to hold any civil office in the state, lest his thoughts should be distracted by the inconsistency of his pursuits, or by the jealousy and displeasure of the master in whose business he was employed. They feared that, without such a law, constant interruptions would take place, in consequence of the necessity, or the desire, of becoming conspicuous in a public station; that their proper occupations would be neglected; and that many would be led, by vanity and self-sufficiency, to interfere in matters out of their sphere. They also considered that to follow more than one occupation would be detrimental to their own interests, and to those of the community; and that when men, from a motive of avarice, are induced to engage in numerous branches of art, the result generally is that they are unable to excel in any. Such,” he adds, “is the case in some countries, where artizans engage in agricultural pursuits, or in commercial speculations, and frequently in two or three different arts at once. Many, again, in those communities which are governed on democratic principles, are in the habit of frequenting popular assemblies, and dreaming only of their own interests, receive bribes from the leaders of parties, and do incredible mischief to the state. But with the Egyptians, if any artizan meddled with political affairs, or engaged in any other employment than the one to which he had been brought up, a severe punishment was instantly inflicted upon him; and it was with this view that the regulations respecting their public and private occupations were instituted by the early legislators of Egypt.”

Many arts and inventions were in common use in Egypt for centuries before they are generally supposed to have been known; and we are now and then as much surprised to find that certain things were old 3000 years ago, as the Egyptians would be if they could hear us talk of them as late discoveries. One of them is the use of glass, with which they were acquainted, at least, as early as the reign of the first Osirtasen, more than 3800 years ago; and the process of glass-blowing is represented, during his reign, in the paintings of Beni Hassan, in the same manner as it is on later monuments, in different parts of Egypt, to the time of the Persian conquest.


377.              Part 1. Glass-blowers. Beni Hassan.

2. The same. Thebes.

The glass at the end of the blowpipe b b is coloured green.

a is the fire. d a glass bottle.

The form of the bottle and the use of the blow-pipe are unequivocally indicated in those subjects; and the green hue of the fused material, taken from the fire at the point of the pipe, sufficiently proves the intention of the artist. But, even if we had not this evidence of the use of glass, it would be shown by those well-known images of glazed pottery, which were common at the same period; the vitrified substance that covers them being of the same quality as glass, and containing the same in gradients fused in the same manner. And besides the many glass ornaments known to be of an earlier period is a bead, found at Thebes, bearing the name of a Pharaoh who lived about 1450 B.C., the specific gravity of which, 25º 23′, is precisely the same as of crown glass, now manufactured in England.


378.              Figs. 1, 2. Glass bottles represented in the sculptures of Thebes.

3. Captain Henvey’s glass bead. About the real size.

4. The hieroglyphics on the bead, containing the name of Amun-m̄-het, who lived about B.C. 1450.

Glass bottles, similar to those in the above woodcut (figs. 1, 2), are even met with on monuments of the 4th dynasty, dating long before the Osirtasens, or more than 4000 years ago; the transparent substance shows the red wine they contained; and this kind of bottle is represented in the same manner among the offerings to the gods, and at the fêtes of individuals, wherever wine was introduced, from the earliest to the latest times. Bottles, and other objects of glass, are commonly found in the tombs; and though they have no kings’ names or dates inscribed upon them (glass being seldom used for such a purpose), no doubt exists of their great antiquity; and we may consider it a fortunate chance that has preserved one bead with the name of a sovereign of the 18th dynasty. Nor is it necessary to point out how illogical is the inference that, because other kinds of glass have not been found bearing a king’s name, they were not made in Egypt, at, or even before, the same early period.

Pliny ascribes the discovery of glass to some Phœnician sailors accidentally lighting a fire on the sea-shore; but if an effect of chance, the secret is more likely to have been arrived at in Egypt, where natron (or subcarbonate of soda) abounded, than by the sea side; and if the Phœnicians really were the first to discover it on the Syrian coast, this would prove their migration from the Persian Gulf to have happened at a very remote period. Glass was certainly one of the great exports of the Phœnicians; who traded in beads, bottles, and other objects of that material, as well as various manufactures, made either in their own or in other countries; but Egypt was always famed for its manufacture; a peculiar kind of earth was found near Alexandria, without which, Strabo says, “it was impossible to make certain kinds of glass of many colours, and of a brilliant quality;” and some vases, presented by an Egyptian priest to the Emperor Hadrian, were considered so curious and valuable that they were only used on grand occasions.

Glass bottles, of various colours, were eagerly bought from Egypt, and exported into other countries; and the manufacture, as well as the patterns of many of those found in Greece, Etruria, and Rome, show that they were of Egyptian work; and though imitated in Italy and Greece, the original art was borrowed from the workmen of the Nile.

Such, too, was their skill in making glass, and in the mode of staining it of various hues, that they counterfeited with success the emerald, the amethyst, and other precious stones; and even arrived at an excellence in the art of introducing numerous colours into the same vase, to which our European workmen, in spite of their improvements in many branches of this manufacture, are still unable to attain. A few years ago the glass makers of Venice made several attempts to imitate the variety of colours found in antique cups; but as the component parts were of different densities, they did not all cool, or set, at the same rapidity, and the vase was unsound. And it is only by making an inner foundation of one colour, to which those of the outer surface are afterwards added, that they have been able to produce their many-coloured vases; some of which were sent to the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Not so the Egyptians; who combined all the colours they required in the same cup, without the interior lining: those which had it being of inferior and cheaper quality. They had even the secret of introducing gold between two surfaces of glass; and in their bottles, a gold band alternates within a set of blue, green, and other colours. Another curious process was also common in Egypt in early times, more than 3000 years ago, which has only just been attempted at Venice; whereby the pattern on the surface was made to pass in right lines directly through the substance; so that if any number of horizontal sections were made through it, each one would have the same device on its upper and under surface. It is in fact a Mosaic in glass; made by fusing together as many delicate rods of an opaque glass, of the colour required for the picture; in the same manner as the woods in Tunbridge-ware are glued together, to form a larger and coarser pattern. The skill required in this exquisite work is not only shown by the art itself, but the fineness of the design; for some of the feathers of birds, and other details, are only to be made out with a lens; which means of magnifying was evidently used in Egypt, when this Mosaic glass was manufactured. Indeed the discovery of a lens of crystal by Mr. Layard, at Nimroud, satisfactorily proves its use at an early period in Assyria; and we may conclude that it was neither a recent discovery there, nor confined to that country.

Winckelmann is of opinion that “the ancients carried the art of glassmaking to a higher degree of perfection than ourselves, though it may appear a paradox to those who have not seen their works in this material;” and we may even add that they used it for more purposes; excepting of course windows, the inconvenience of which in the hot sun of Egypt would have been unbearable; or even in Italy; and only one pane of glass has been found at Pompeii, in a place not exposed to the outer light.

Winckelmann also mentions two pieces of glass mosaic, “one of which, though not quite an inch in length, and a third of an inch in breadth, exhibits on a dark and variegated ground, a bird resembling a duck, in very bright and varied colours, rather in the manner of a Chinese painting than a copy of nature. The outlines are bold and decided, the colours beautiful and pure, and the effect very pleasing; in consequence of the artist having alternately introduced an opaque and a transparent glass. The most delicate pencil of a miniature painter could not have traced with greater sharpness the circle of the eyeball, or the plumage of the neck and wings; at which part this specimen has been broken. But the most surprising thing is, that the reverse exhibits the same bird, in which it is impossible to discover any difference in the smallest details; whence it may be concluded that the figure of the bird continues through its entire thickness. The picture has a granular appearance on both sides, and seems to have been formed of single pieces, like mosaic work, united with so much skill, that the most powerful magnifying glass is unable to discover their junction. From the condition of this fragment, it was at first difficult to form any idea of the process employed in its manufacture: and we should have remained entirely ignorant of it, had not the fracture shown that filaments of the same colours, as on the surface of the glass, and throughout its whole diameter, passed from one side to the other; whence it has been concluded that the picture was composed of different cylinders of coloured glass, which, being subjected to a proper degree of heat, united by (partial) fusion. I cannot suppose they would have taken so much trouble, and have been contented to make a picture only the sixth of an inch thick, while, by employing longer filaments, they might have produced one many inches in thickness, without occupying any additional time in the process; it is therefore probable this was cut from a larger or thicker piece, and the number of the pictures taken from the same depended on the length of the filaments, and the consequent thickness of the original mass. The other specimen, also broken, and about the size of the preceding one, is made in the same manner. It exhibits ornaments of a green, yellow, and white colour, on a blue ground, which consist in volutes, strings of beads, and flowers, ending in pyramidical points. All the details are perfectly distinct and unconfused, and yet so very minute, that the keenest eye is unable to follow the delicate lines in which the volutes terminate; the ornaments, however, are all continued, without interruption, through the entire thickness of the piece.”

Winckelmann is quite right respecting the mode of forming these glass mosaics; which was made more intelligible by a specimen found in Egypt. It consisted of separate squares, whose original division was readily discovered in a bright light, as well as the manner of adjusting the different parts, and of uniting them in one mass; and here and there the heat applied to cement the squares had caused the colours to run between them, in consequence of partial fusion from too strong a fire.

Not only were these various parts made at different times, and afterwards united by heat, rendered effective on their surfaces by means of a flux applied to them, but each coloured line was at first separate, and, when adjusted in its proper place, was connected with those around it by the same process.

The immense emeralds mentioned by ancient authors were doubtless glass imitations of those precious stones. Such were the colossal statue of Serapis, in the Egyptian labyrinth, nine cubits, or thirteen feet and a half, in height; an emerald presented by the king of Babylon to an Egyptian Pharaoh, which was four cubits, or six feet, long, and three cubits broad; and an obelisk in the temple of Jupiter, which was forty cubits, or sixty feet, in height, and four cubits broad, composed of four emeralds; and to have formed statues of glass of such dimensions, even allowing them to have been of different pieces, was a greater triumph of skill than imitating the stones.

That the Egyptians, more than 3000 years ago, were well acquainted not only with the manufacture of common glass, for beads and bottles of ordinary quality, but with the art of staining it of divers colours, is sufficiently proved by the fragments found in the tombs of Thebes; and so skilful were they in this complicated process, that they imitated the most fanciful devices, and succeeded in counterfeiting the rich hues, and brilliancy, of precious stones. The green emerald, the purple amethyst, and other expensive gems, were successfully imitated; a necklace of false stones could be purchased at an Egyptian jeweller’s, to please the wearer, or deceive a stranger, by the appearance of reality; and some mock pearls (found by me at Thebes) have been so well counterfeited, that even now it is difficult with a strong lens to detect the imposition.

Pliny says the emerald was more easily counterfeited than any other gem, and considers the art of imitating precious stones a far more lucrative piece of deceit than any devised by the ingenuity of man; Egypt was, as usual, the country most noted for this manufacture; and we can readily believe that in Pliny’s time they succeeded so completely in the imitation as to render it “difficult to distinguish false from real stones.”

Many, in the form of beads, have been met with in different parts of Egypt, particularly at Thebes; and so far did the Egyptians carry this spirit of imitation, that even small figures, scarabæi, and objects made of ordinary porcelain, were counterfeited; being composed of still cheaper materials. A figure, which was entirely of earthenware, with a glazed exterior, underwent a somewhat more complicated process than when cut out of stone, and simply covered with a vitrified coating; this last could therefore be sold at a low price: it offered all the brilliancy of the former, and its weight alone betrayed its inferiority; by which means, whatever was novel, or pleasing from its external appearance, was placed within reach of all classes; or at least the possessor had the satisfaction of seeming to partake in each fashionable novelty.

Such inventions, and successful endeavours to imitate costly ornaments by humbler materials, not only show the progress of art among the Egyptians, but strongly argue the great advancement they had made in the customs of civilised life; since it is certain, that until society has arrived at a high degree of luxury and refinement, artificial wants of this nature are not created, and the poorer classes do not yet feel the desire of imitating the rich, in the adoption of objects dependent on taste or accidental caprice.

Glass bugles and beads were much used by the Egyptians for necklaces, and for a sort of network, with which they covered the wrappers and cartonage of mummies. They were arranged so as to form, by their varied hues, numerous devices or figures, in the manner of our bead purses; and women sometimes amused themselves by stringing them for ornamental purposes, as at the present day.

The principal use to which glass was applied by the Egyptians, (besides the beads and fancy work already noticed,) was for the manufacture of bottles, vases, and other utensils; wine was frequently brought to table in a bottle, or handed to a guest in a cup of this material; and a body was sometimes buried in a glass coffin. Occasionally a granite sarcophagus was covered with a coating of vitrified matter, usually of a deep green colour, which displayed, by its transparency, the sculptures or hieroglyphic legends engraved upon the stone; a process well understood by the Egyptians, and the same they employed in many of the blue figures of pottery and stone, commonly found in their tombs.

In their glass mosaics, the colours have a wonderful brilliancy; the blues which are given by copper are vivid and beautifully clear; and one of the reds has all the intenseness of rosso antico, with the brightness of the glassy material in which it is found; thus combining the qualities of a rich enamel.

Many of the porcelain cups discovered at Thebes present a tasteful arrangement of varied hues, and show the skill of the Egyptians, and the great experience they possessed in this branch of art. The manner in which the colours are blended and arranged; the minuteness of the lines, frequently tapering off to an almost imperceptible fineness; and the varied directions of twisted curves, traversing the substance, but strictly conforming to the pattern designed by the artist, display no ordinary skill, and show that they were perfect masters of the means they employed.

The Egyptian porcelain should perhaps be denominated glass-porcelain, as partaking of the quality of the two, and not being altogether unlike the porcelain-glass invented by the celebrated Réaumur; who discovered, during his curious experiments on different qualities of porcelain, the method of converting glass into a substance very similar to chinaware.

The ground of Egyptian porcelain is generally of one homogeneous quality and hue, either blue or green, traversed in every direction by lines or devices of other colours—red, white, yellow, black, light or dark blue, and green, or whatever the artist chose to introduce; and these are not always confined to the surface, but frequently penetrate into the ground, sometimes having passed half, or entirely, through the fused substance; in which respect they differ from the porcelain of China, where the flowers or patterns are applied to the surface, and justify the use of the term glass-porcelain. In some instances, the yellows were put on after the other colours, upon the surface of the vase, which was then again subjected to a proper degree of heat; and after this, the handles, the rim, and the base, were added, and fixed by a repetition of the same process. It was not without considerable risk that these additions were made to their porcelain and glass vases, and many were broken during the operation; to which Martial alludes, in an epigram on these fragile cups of the Egyptians.

That the Egyptians possessed considerable knowledge of chemistry and the use of metallic oxides, is evident from the nature of the colours applied to their glass and porcelain; and they were even acquainted with the influence of acids upon colour, being able, in the process of dyeing or staining cloth, to bring about certain changes in the hues, by the same means adopted in our own cotton works, as I shall show in describing the manufactures of the Egyptians.

The art of cutting glass was known to them at the most remote periods; hieroglyphics and various devices being frequently engraved upon vases and beads; they also ground glass; and some, particularly that which bears figures or ornaments in relief, was cast in a mould. Some have supposed that the method of cutting glass was unknown to the ancients, and have limited the period of its invention to the commencement of the 17th century of our era, when Gaspar Lehmann, at Prague, first succeeded in it, and obtained a patent from the Emperor Rodolph II.; but the specimens of ancient glass, cut, engraved, and ground, discovered in Egypt, suffice to prove the art was practised there of old.

We find that in Rome the diamond was used for cutting hard stones; for Pliny tells us that diamonds were eagerly sought by lapidaries, who set them in iron handles, having been found to penetrate anything, however hard. He also states that emeralds and other hard stones were engraved, though in early times it was “considered wrong to violate gems with any figures or devices;” and “all gems could be engraved by the diamond.” And though we do not know the precise method adopted by the Egyptians for cutting glass and hard stones, we may reasonably conclude they were acquainted with the diamond, and adopted it for engraving them. Emery powder and the lapidary’s wheel were also used in Egypt; and there is little doubt that the Israelites learnt the art of cutting and engraving stones in that country.

Some glass bottles were enclosed in wicker-work very nearly resembling what is now called by the Egyptians a damagán: which holds from one to two gallons of fluid; and some of a smaller size, from six to nine inches in height, were protected by a covering made of the stalks of the papyrus or cyperus rush, like the modern bottles containing Florence oil: others again appear to have been partly cased in leather, sewed over them, much in the same manner as some now made for carrying liquids on a journey. (Figs. 1, 3, and 2.)


379.              Fig. 1 has apparently leather sewed over the glass.

2 glass damagán enclosed in wickerwork.

3 small glass bottle covered with papyrus rush, like the Florence oil flasks.

4 a piece of cloth with a border of a blue colour.

Among the many bottles found in the tombs of Thebes, and other places, none have excited greater curiosity and surprise than those of Chinese manufacture, presenting inscriptions in that language. Their number is considerable, and I have seen more than twenty from Thebes and other places. But though found in ancient tombs, there is no evidence of their having really been deposited there in early Pharaonic or even Ptolemaic times; and so many of the tombs have been occupied till a recent period by the Moslem population, that they may have been left there by these their more recent inmates. Professor Rosellini, however, mentions one he met with “in a previously unopened tomb, of uncertain date, which” he refers, “from the style of the sculptures, to a Pharaonic period, not much later than the 18th dynasty;” and, were it not for this, we might suppose them brought from India by Arab traders. They are about two inches in height: one side presents a flower, and the other an inscription, containing, according to Sir J. Davis (in three out of eight he examined), the following legend:—“The flower opens, and lo! another year;” and another has been translated by Mr. Thoms:—“During the shining of the moon the fir-tree sends forth its sap,” (which in a thousand years becomes amber.)


380.              Chinese bottles found in the Egyptian tombs.

Fig.1”>              1, in the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

2,              one of two presented by me to the British Museum.

3,              belonging to Mr. W. Hamilton.

4,              in my possession. From Thebes.

The quality of these bottles is very inferior, and of a time, as Sir J. Davis thought, “when the Chinese had not yet arrived at the same perfection in making porcelain as at present.” They appear to have been only prized for their contents; and after they were exhausted, the valueless bottle was applied to the ordinary purpose of holding the Kohl, or Collyrium, used by women for staining their eyelids.

It has been questioned, if the Egyptians understood the art of enamelling upon gold or silver, but we might infer it from an expression of Pliny, who says: “The Egyptians paint their silver vases, representing Anubis upon them, the silver being painted and not engraved;” and M. Dubois had in his possession a specimen of Egyptian enamel. The reason of the doubt is our finding so many small gold figures with ornamented wings, and bodies, whose feathers, faces, or other coloured parts are composed of a vitrified composition, let into the metal. But they may have adopted both processes; and it is probable that many early specimens of encaustum were made by tooling the devices to a certain depth on bronze, and pouring a vitrified composition into the hollow space, the metal being properly heated, at the same time; and, when fixed, the surface was smoothed down and polished.

Both the encaustic painting in wax, and that which consisted in burning in the colours, were evidently known to the ancients, being mentioned by Pliny, Ovid, Martial, and others; and the latter is supposed to have been on the same principle as our enamelling on gold.

Bottles of various kinds, glass, porcelain, alabaster, and other materials were frequently exported from Egypt to other countries. The Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Romans received them as articles of luxury, which being remarkable for their beauty were prized as ornaments of the table; and when Egypt became a Roman province, part of the tribute annually paid to the conquerors consisted of glass vases, from the manufactories of Memphis and Alexandria.

The intercourse between Egypt and Greece had been constantly kept up after the accession of Psammitichus and Amasis; and the former country, the parent of the arts at that period, supplied the Greeks and some of the Syrian tribes with numerous manufactures. The Etruscans, too, a commercial people, appear to have had an extensive trade with Egypt, and we repeatedly find small alabaster, as well as coloured glass, bottles in their tombs, which have all the character of the Egyptian; and not only does the stone of the former proclaim by its quality the quarries from which it was taken, but the form and style of the workmanship leave no doubt of the bottles themselves being the productions of Egyptian artists. The same remark applies to many objects found at Nineveh.

It is uncertain of what stone the famous murrhine vases, mentioned by Pliny, Martial, and other writers, were made; it was of various colours, beautifully blended, and even iridescent, and was obtained in greater quantity in Carmania than in any country. It was also found in Parthia and other districts of Asia, but unknown in Egypt; a fact quite consistent with the notion of its being fluor-spar, which is not met with in the valley of the Nile; and explaining the reason why the Egyptians imitated it with the composition known under the name of false murrhine, said to have been made at Thebes and Memphis. The description given by Pliny certainly bears a stronger resemblance to the fluor-spar than to any other stone, and the only objection to this having been murrhine, is our not finding any vases, or fragments, of it; and some may still doubt if the substance is known to which the naturalist alludes. But the fluor-spar appears to have the strongest claim; and the glass-porcelain of Egypt, whose various colours are disposed in waving lines, as if to imitate the natural undulations of that crystallised substance, may be the false murrhine of the ancients. (Woodcuts 170, fig. 2; 171, fig. 5.)

It is difficult to say whether the Egyptians employed glass for the purpose of making lamps or lanterns: ancient authors give us no direct information on the subject; and the paintings offer few representations of lamps, torches, or any other kind of light.

Herodotus mentions a “fête of burning lamps,” which took place at Saïs, and indeed throughout the country, at a certain period of the year, and describes the lamps used on this occasion as “small vases filled with salt and olive oil, on which the wick floated, and burnt during the whole night;” but he does not say of what materials those vases were made, and they may either have been of glass, or of earthenware.


A guard apparently with a lantern.

381.              Tel-el-Amarna.

The sculptures of Tel-el-Amarna, again, represent a guard of soldiers, one of whom holds before him what appears to be a lamp, and resembles the cloth or paper lanterns so common in Egypt at the present day.

The Egyptians were always celebrated for their manufacture of linen and other cloths, and the produce of their looms was exported to, and eagerly purchased by, foreign nations. The fine linen and embroidered work, the yarn and woollen stuffs, of the upper and lower country are frequently mentioned, and were highly esteemed. Solomon purchased many of those commodities, as well as chariots and horses, from Egypt; and Chemmis, the city of Pan, retained the credit it had acquired in making linen stuffs, till about the period of the Roman conquest.

Woollen garments were chiefly used by the lower orders: sometimes also by the rich, and even by the priests, who were permitted to wear an upper robe in the form of a cloak of this material: but under garments of wool were strictly forbidden them, upon a principle of cleanliness; and as they took so much pains to cleanse and shave the body, they considered it inconsistent to adopt clothes made of the hair of animals. No one was allowed to be buried in a woollen garment, in consequence of its engendering worms, which would injure the body; nor could any priest enter a temple without taking off this part of his dress.

The quantity of linen manufactured and used in Egypt was very great; and, independent of that made up into articles of dress, the numerous wrappers required for enveloping the mummies, both of men and animals, show how large a supply must have been kept ready for the constant demand at home, as well as for that of the foreign market.

That the bandages employed in wrapping the dead are of linen, and not, as some have imagined, of cotton, has been already ascertained by the most satisfactory tests; and though no one among the unscientific inhabitants of modern Egypt ever thought of questioning the fact, received opinion in Europe had till lately decided that they were cotton; and it was forbidden to doubt that “the bands of byssine linen,” said by Herodotus to have been used for enveloping the mummies, were cotton.

The accurate experiments made, with the aid of powerful microscopes, by Mr. Bauer, Mr. Thomson, Dr. Ure, and others, on the nature of the fibres of linen and cotton threads, have shown that the former invariably present a cylindrical form, transparent, and articulated, or jointed like a cane, while the latter offer the appearance of a flat riband, with a hem or border at each edge; so that there is no possibility of mistaking the fibres of either, except, perhaps, when the cotton is in an unripe state, and the flattened shape of the centre is less apparent. The results having been found similar in every instance, and the structure of the fibres thus unquestionably determined, the threads of mummy cloths were submitted to the same test, and no exception was found to their being linen; nor were they even a mixture of linen and cotton thread.

The fact of the mummy cloths being linen is therefore decided. The name byssus, it is true, presents a difficulty; owing to the Hebrew shash being translated “byssus” in the Septuagint version, and, in our own, “fine linen;” and to shash being the name applied at this day by the Arabs to fine muslin, which is of cotton and not of linen; but as the mummy cloths said by Herodotus to be “of byssine sindon,” are known to be invariably linen, the byssus cannot be cotton. Herodotus, indeed, uses the expression “tree wool” to denote cotton; and Julius Pollux adopts the same name, distinguishing it also from byssus, which he calls a species of Indian flax. The use of the two words byssus and linon presents no difficulty, since they might be employed, like our flax and linen, to signify the plant, and the substance made from it.

Cotton cloth, however, was among the manufactures of Egypt, and dresses of this material were worn by all classes. Pliny states that the Egyptian priests, though they used linen, were particularly partial to cotton robes; and “cotton garments,” supplied by the government for the use of the temples, are distinctly mentioned in the Rosetta Stone. Herodotus and Plutarch affirm that linen was preferred, owing as well to its freshness in a hot climate, as to its great tendency to keep the body clean, and that a religious prejudice forbade the priests to wear vestments of any other quality; this, however, refers to the inner portion of the dress; and the prohibition of entering a temple with cotton or woollen garments led to the notion that none but linen were worn by them at any time. The same custom was adopted by the votaries of Isis, when her rites were introduced by the Greeks and Romans; and linen dresses were appropriated to those who had been initiated in the sacred mysteries.

Whatever restrictions may have been in force respecting the use of cotton among the priesthood, other individuals were permitted to consult their own choice on this point; and it was immaterial whether they preferred, during life, the coolness of flax, or the softness of cotton raiment, provided the body, after death, was enveloped in bandages of linen; and this regulation accounts for the mummy cloths of the poorest individuals being also found of that material.

It was not only for articles of dress that cotton was manufactured by the Egyptians: a great quantity was used for the furniture of their houses, the coverings of chairs and couches, and various other purposes; and a sort of cloth was made of the united filaments of flax and cotton. This is mentioned by Julius Pollux, who, after describing the cotton-plant as an Egyptian production, and stating that cloth was manufactured of the “wool of its nut,” says they sometimes “make the woof of it, and the warp of linen;” a quality of cloth still manufactured by the modern Egyptians.

From the few representations which occur in the tombs of Thebes, it has been supposed that the Egyptian looms were of rude construction, and totally incapable of producing the fine linen so much admired by the ancients; and as the paintings in which they occur were executed at a very early period, it has been conjectured that, in after times, great improvements took place in their construction. But when we consider with what simple means oriental nations are in the habit of executing the most delicate and complicated work, we cease to feel surprised at the apparent imperfection of the mechanism, or instruments, used by the Egyptians; and it is probable that their far-famed “fine linen,” mentioned in Scripture, and by ancient writers, was produced from looms of the same construction as those represented in the paintings of Thebes and Eileithyias. Nor was the praise bestowed upon that manufacture unmerited; and the quality of one piece of linen found near Memphis fully justifies it, and excites equal admiration at the present day, being to the touch comparable to silk, and not inferior in texture to our finest cambric.

The mummy cloths are generally of a very coarse quality; and little attention was bestowed on the disposition of the threads, in the cloths of ordinary manufacture. Mr. Thomson, who examined many specimens of them, is of opinion that the number of threads in the warp invariably exceeded those of the woof, occasionally even by four times the quantity; and as his observations are highly interesting, I shall introduce an extract from his pamphlet on the subject.

“Of the products of the Egyptian loom, we know scarcely more than the mummy pits have disclosed to us; and it would be as unreasonable to look through modern sepulchres for specimens and proofs of the state of manufacturing art amongst ourselves, as to deduce an opinion of the skill of the Egyptians, from those fragments of cloth which envelope their dead, and have come down, almost unchanged, to our own time. The curious or costly fabrics which adorned the living, and were the pride of the industry and skill of Thebes, have perished ages ago. There are, however, amongst these remains, some which are not unworthy of notice, which carry us back into the workshops of former times, and exhibit to us the actual labours of weavers and dyers of Egypt, more than 2000 years ago.

“The great mass of the mummy cloth, employed in bandages and coverings, whether of birds, animals, or the human species, is of coarse texture, especially that more immediately in contact with the body, which is generally impregnated with resinous or bituminous matter. The upper bandages, nearer the surface, are finer. Sometimes the whole is enveloped in a covering coarse and thick, and very like the sacking of the present day: sometimes in cloth coarse and open, like that used in our cheese-presses, for which it might easily be mistaken. In the College of Surgeons are various specimens of these cloths, some of which are very curious.

“The beauty of the texture and peculiarity in the structure of a mummy cloth given to me by Mr. Belzoni were very striking. It was free from gum, or resin, or impregnation of any kind, and had evidently been originally white. It was close and firm, yet very elastic. The yarn of both warp and woof was remarkably even and well spun. The thread of the warp was double, consisting of two fine threads twisted together. The woof was single. The warp contained 90 threads in an inch; the woof, or weft, only 44. The fineness of these materials, estimated after the manner of cotton yarn, was about 30 hanks in the pound.

“The subsequent examination of a great variety of mummy cloths showed, that the disparity between the warp and woof belonged to the system of manufacture, and that the warp generally had twice or thrice, and not seldom four times, the number of threads in an inch that the woof had: thus, a cloth containing 80 threads of warp in the inch, of a fineness of about 24 hanks in the pound, had 40 threads in the woof: another with 120 threads of warp, of 30 hanks, had 40; and a third specimen only 30 threads in the woof. These have each respectively double, treble, and quadruple the number of threads in the warp that they have in the woof. This structure, so different from modern cloth, which has the proportions nearly equal, originated, probably, in the difficulty and tediousness of getting in the woof, when the shuttle was thrown by hand, which is the practice in India at the present day, and which there are weavers still living old enough to remember the universal practice in this country.”

Mr. Thomson then mentions some fragments of mummy cloths, sent to England by the late Mr. Salt, which he saw in the British Museum. They were “of different degrees of fineness; some fringed at the ends, and some striped at the edges.” “My first impression,” he continues, “on seeing these cloths, was, that the finest kinds were muslin, and of Indian manufacture, since we learn from the ‘Periplus of the Erythrean Sea,’ ascribed to Arrian, but more probably the work of some Greek merchant himself engaged in the trade, that muslins from the Ganges were an article of export from India to the Arabian Gulf: but this suspicion of their being cotton was soon removed by the microscope of Mr. Bauer, which showed that they were all, without exception, linen. Some were thin and transparent, and of very delicate texture. The finest appeared to be made of yarns of near 100 hanks in the pound, with 140 threads in the inch in the warp, and about 64 in the woof. A specimen of muslin in the museum of the East India House, the finest production of the Dacca loom, has only 100 threads in an inch in the warp, and 84 in the woof; but the surprising fineness of the yarns, which, though spun by hand, is not less than 250 hanks in the pound, gives to this fabric its unrivalled tenuity and lightness.

“Some of the cloths were fringed at the ends, and one, a sort of scarf, about four feet long, and twenty inches wide, was fringed at both ends. Three or four threads twisted together with the fingers to form a strong one, and two of these again twisted together, and knotted at the middle and at the end to prevent unravelling, formed the fringe, precisely like the silk shawls of the present day.

“The selvages of the Egyptian cloths are generally formed with the greatest care, and are well calculated by their strength to protect the cloth from accident. Fillets of strong cloth or tape also secure the ends of the pieces from injury, showing a knowledge of all the little resources of modern manufacture Several of the specimens, both of fine and coarse cloth, were bordered with blue stripes of various patterns, and in some alternating with narrow lines of another colour. The width of the patterns varied from half an inch to an inch and a quarter. In the latter were seven blue stripes, the broadest about half an inch wide nearest the selvage, followed by five very narrow ones, and terminated by one an eighth of an inch broad. Had this pattern, instead of being confined to the edge of the cloth, been repeated across its whole breadth, it would have formed a modern gingham, which we can scarcely doubt was one of the articles of Egyptian industry.

“A small pattern about half an inch broad formed the edging of one of the finest of these cloths, and was composed of a stripe of blue, alternating with three lines of a fawn colour, forming a simple and elegant border. These stripes were produced in the loom by coloured threads previously dyed in the yarn. The nature of the fawn colour I was unable to determine. It was too much degraded by age, and the quantity too small, to enable me to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Though I had no doubt the colouring matter of the blue stripes was indigo, I subjected the cloth to the following examination. Boiled in water for some time, the colour did not yield in the least; nor was it at all affected by soap, nor by strong alkalies: sulphuric acid, diluted only so far as not to destroy the cloth, had no action on the colour. Chloride of lime gradually reduced, and at last destroyed it. Strong nitric acid, dropped upon the blue, turned it orange, and in the same instant destroyed it. These tests prove the colouring matter of the stripes to be indigo.

“This dye was unknown to Herodotus, for he makes no mention of it. It was known to Pliny, who, though ignorant of its true nature, and the history of its production, has correctly described the most characteristic of its properties, the emission of a beautiful purple vapour when exposed to heat. Had his commentators been acquainted with the sublimation of indigo, it would have saved many learned doubts. We learn from the Periplus, that it was an article of export from Barbarike on the Indus, to Egypt, where its employment by the manufacturers of that country, probably from a remote period, is clearly established by the specimens here described.”

In woodcut 379, fig. 4, is a piece of cloth, brought from Thebes, which offers a very good instance of the coloured border mentioned by Mr. Thomson. It is of ordinary quality; the number of threads in the inch is ninety-six in the warp, and thirty-four in the woof; and the border consists of one broad band and six narrow stripes, of a blue colour, evidently dyed with indigo; the band which is nearest the selvage is one inch and two tenths in breadth, the others consist each of two threads, in the direction of the warp, with the exception of the innermost one, which is of five threads; and the dividing line between the fourth and fifth is varied by the introduction of a blue thread down the centre. The rest of the cloth has the usual yellowish tinge, “supposed to arise from some astringent preparation employed for its preservation,” which, according to Mr. Thomson, imparts to water a similar colour, but offers no trace of tannin. “In none of the specimens I have examined,” he adds, “did either gelatine or albumen, or solution of iron, afford any precipitate; but the subacetate of lead produced a cloud, indicating the presence of extractive matter.”

It is evident that the colour was imparted to the threads previous to the cloth being made, as the blue remains unaltered; and the cloths with broad coloured borders are the more curious, as they illustrate the representations in the paintings, and show that they were similar to those made by the looms in the age of the Pharaohs of the 12th and 18th dynasties; and the Nubians wear shawls with the same blue borders, manufactured in the valley of the Nile, at the present day. The Egyptians also dyed old dresses, as in these days.

Another piece of linen, from Thebes, has 152 threads in the warp, and 71 in the woof, to each inch; it is of a much darker hue than the cloth just mentioned, and was perhaps dyed with the carthamus tinctorius, or saff flower. But the most remarkable piece of fine linen is that found near Memphis, before mentioned; and some idea may be given of its texture, from the number of threads in the inch, which is 540 (or 270 double threads) in the warp; and the limited proportion of 110 in the woof, shows the justness of Mr. Thomson’s observation, that this disparity belonged to their “system of manufacture,” since it is observable even in the finest quality of cloth. It is also of a light brown colour. Another very remarkable circumstance in this specimen is, that it is covered with small figures and hieroglyphics, so finely drawn, that here and there the lines are with difficulty followed by the eye; and as there is no appearance of the ink having run in any part of the cloth, it is evident they had previously prepared it for this purpose. The perfection of its threads is equally surprising, the knots and breaks, seen in our best cambric, are not found in holding it to the light—an ancient mode of proving fine cloth which led to that beautiful Greek expression ειλικρινης, “sincere,” borrowed from this test of light; which is far superior to the Latin sincerus, derived from honey, sine cerâ.

Pliny cites four qualities of linen, particularly noted in Egypt: the Tanitic and Pelusiac, the Butine and the Tentyritic; and mentions in the same place the cotton tree of Egypt, which he confines to the Upper country. He also states that the quantity of flax, cultivated in Egypt, was accounted for, by their exporting linen to Arabia and India; and the quality of that produced by the Egyptian looms was far superior to any other.

The threads used for nets were remarkable for their fineness; and Pliny says “some of them were so delicate that they would pass through a man’s ring, and a single person could carry a sufficient number of them to surround a whole wood, Julius Lupus, who died while governor of Egypt, had some of these nets, each string of which consisted of 150 threads; a fact perfectly surprising to those who are not aware, that the Rhodians preserve to this day, in the Temple of Minerva, the remains of a linen corslet presented to them by Amasis, king of Egypt, whose threads are composed each of 365 fibres; and in proof of the truth of this, Mutianus, who was thrice consul, lately affirmed at Rome, that he had examined it; and the reason of so few fragments remaining was attributable to the curiosity of those who had frequently subjected it to the same scrutiny.”

Herodotus mentions this corslet, and another, presented by Amasis to the Lacedæmonians, which had been carried off by the Samians; “it was of linen, ornamented with numerous figures of animals, worked in gold and cotton. Each thread of the corslet was worthy of admiration. For, though very fine, every one was composed of 360 other threads, all distinct; the quality being similar to that dedicated to Minerva, at Lindus, by the same monarch.”

Many of the Egyptian stuffs presented various patterns worked in colours by the loom, independent of those produced by the dyeing or printing process, and so richly composed, that Martial says they vied with the Babylonian cloths embroidered with the needle.

The art of embroidery was commonly practised in Egypt; and the Hebrews, on leaving the country, took advantage of the knowledge they had there acquired to make a rich “hanging for the door of the tent, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, wrought with needlework;” a coat of fine linen was embroidered for Aaron; and his girdle was “of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, of needlework.”

The gold thread used for these purposes is supposed to have been beaten out with the hammer, and afterwards rounded; and even the delicate net made by Vulcan, which was so fine that the gods themselves were unable to see it, is represented to have been forged on his anvil with the hammer.| Pliny mentions cloth woven with gold threads, sometimes entirely of those materials, without any woollen or linen ground, as were the garment of Agrippina, the tunic of Heliogabalus, and that worn by Tarquinius Priscus, mentioned by Verrius.

Pliny says, “Coloured dresses were known in the time of Homer, from which the robes of triumph were borrowed: and from the Phrygians having been the first to devise the method of giving the same effect with the needle, they have been called Phrygiones. But to weave cloth with gold thread was the invention of an Asiatic king, Attalus, from whom the name Attalic was derived; and the Babylonians were most noted for their skill in weaving cloths of various colours.”

The question still remains undecided respecting the time when silver thread came into use; and as no mention of silver stuffs occurs in the writings of ancient authors, it has been supposed that its introduction was of late date. Silver wire, however, was already known in Egypt about 3300 years ago, being found at Thebes of the third Thothmes: nor is there any reason to suppose it was then a novel invention; and it was probably known and used nearly as soon as gold wire, which we find attached to rings bearing the name of Osirtasen the First, who lived more than 600 years earlier.

This wire is supposed not to have been drawn, like our own, through holes in metal plates, but to have been beaten out, and rounded with the file: but the appearance of some found at Thebes justifies the conclusion that a mode of drawing it was not unknown to them; and the omission of every representation of the process in the paintings is no argument against it, since they have also failed to introduce the casting of metals, and various other arts, with which we see they were acquainted.

Wire-drawing was first attempted with the most ductile metals, gold and silver being used before brass and iron, because the wire was originally employed for ornamental purposes. Gold thread and wire were always made entirely of metal, even to the time of the latter Roman Emperors; and there is no instance of flattened wire wound round silk or linen threads, or of silver or other wire gilt; though gilding was so common on vases and other articles of bronze. That the Egyptians had arrived at great perfection in the art of making the thread is evident, from its being sufficiently fine for weaving into cloth, and for embroidery; and the exceeding delicacy of the linen corslet of Amasis, on which numerous figures of animals were worked in gold, required a proportionate degree of fineness in the gold thread used for the purpose.

The coloured dresses represented in the Egyptian paintings, worn by women of rank, and by the deities, much resemble our modern chintzes, in the style of their patterns, though it is probable that they were generally of linen instead of calico: some appear to have been worked with the needle, and others woven with gold threads.

Another very remarkable discovery of the Egyptians was the use of mordants. They were acquainted with the effect of acids on colour, and submitted the cloth they dyed to one of the same processes adopted in our modern manufactories; and while, from his account, we perceive how little Pliny understood the process he was describing, he at the same time gives us the strongest evidence of its truth. “In Egypt,” he says, “they stain cloths in a wonderful manner. They take them in their original state, quite white, and imbue them, not with a dye, but with certain drugs which have the power of absorbing and taking colour. When this is done, there is still no appearance of change in the cloths; but so soon as they are dipped into a bath of the pigment, which has been prepared for the purpose, they are taken out properly coloured. The singular thing is, that though the bath contains only one colour, several hues are imparted to the piece, these changes depending on the nature of the drug employed: nor can the colour be afterwards washed off; and surely if the bath had many colours in it, they must have presented a confused appearance on the cloth.”

From this it is evident that the cloth was prepared before steeping; the momentary effect he mentions could only be produced by the powerful agency of mordants; and they not only used them to make the cloth take the colour equally, but also to change the hues.

Whether the Egyptians really understood the principle, on which the salts and acids of the mordants acted, or calculated their effects solely from the experience they had acquired, it is difficult to decide. They had long been used in Europe, before their chemical agency was properly explained; and when the term mordant was first applied by the French dyers, they imagined “that the intention of passing the substances, which were to be dyed, through certain saline liquors, was to corrode something that opposed the entering of the colouring principle, and to enlarge the pores of the substances” (the effect of acids in changing the hues being a later discovery); we cannot therefore positively prove that the Egyptians had a knowledge of chemistry, though from their long experience, and from their skill in the employment of the metallic oxides, we may find strong reasons to infer it. For if at first ignorant of the reason of such changes, it is probable that in process of time, they were led to investigate the causes, by which they were effected.

Many discoveries, and even inventions, are more the effect of chance than of studious reflection, and the principle is often the last to be understood. In discoveries this is generally the case, in inventions frequently. But when men have observed, from long practice, a fixed and undeviating result, their curiosity naturally becomes excited, the thirst for knowledge, and above all the desire of benefiting by the discovery, prompt them to scrutinise the causes to which they have been so much indebted; and few people, who have made any advance in the arts of civilised life, long remain ignorant of the means of improving their knowledge.

We may, therefore, suppose some general notions of chemistry, or at least of chemical agency, were known to the Egyptians; and the beautiful colours they obtained from copper, the composition of various metals, and the knowledge of the effects produced on different substances by the salts of the earth, tend to confirm this opinion.

The Egyptian yarn seems all to have been spun with the hand, and the spindle is seen in all the pictures representing the manufacture of cloth. Spinning was principally the occupation of women; and our word “wife” is nearly related to “woof,” “weaving,” and “web.” But men were also employed at the spindle and the loom; though not, as Herodotus would lead us to suppose, to the exclusion of women, who he pretends undertook the duties of men in other countries, “by going to market, and engaging in business, while the men, shut up in the house, worked at the loom.” Men, to this day, are employed in making cloth in Egypt and in other countries, but it cannot be said that they have relinquished their habits for those of women; and we find from the paintings executed by the Egyptians themselves, that both men and women were employed in manufacturing cloth.


382.              Women weaving and using the spindle. Beni-Hassan.

“Other nations,” continues the historian, “make cloth by pushing the woof upwards, the Egyptians, on the contrary, press it down;” and this is confirmed by the paintings which represent the process of manufacturing cloth; but at Thebes, a man who is engaged in making a piece of cloth, with a coloured border or selvage, appears to push the woof upwards, the cloth being fixed above him to the upper part of the frame. They had also the horizontal loom, which occurs at Beni Hassan and other places; and at El Bersheh we see the mode of taking up the increasing length of the cloth by pegs in the ground (as still done in Ethiopia), and how the women wound off numerous threads from balls placed within a slight framework, the fineness of which is indicated by the number taken to form one twist.


383.              Part 1. Men engaged in spinning, and making a sort of network.

2. The horizontal loom, or perhaps mat-making. Beni Hassan.

In the hieroglyphics over persons employed with the spindle, it is remarkable that the word saht, which in Coptic signifies to “twist,” constantly occurs. The spindles were generally small, being about one foot three inches in length, and several, found at Thebes, are now in the museums of Europe. They were generally of wood, and in order to increase their impetus in turning, the circular head was occasionally of gypsum, or composition; some, however, were of a light plaited work, made of rushes, or palm leaves, stained of various colours, and furnished with a loop of the same materials, for securing the twine after it was wound.


384.              Fig. 1. A piece of cloth on a frame. Eileithyias.

2. A loom. Thebes.

k is a shuttle, not thrown, but put in with the hand. It had a hook at each end. See woodcut 382, fig. 2.

Besides the use of the spindle, and form of the loom, we find the two principal purposes, to which flax was applied, represented in the paintings of the tombs: and at Beni Hassan the mode of cultivating the plant, in the same square beds now met with throughout Egypt (much resembling our salt pans), the process of beating the stalks, and making them into ropes, and the manufacture of a piece of cloth, are distinctly pointed out.


385.              Spindles. British and Berlin Museums.

Fig. 1 is a sort of cane split at the top to give it a globular shape.

2 has the head of gypsum.

3 entirely of wood.

4 of plaited or basket work.

5 the loop to put over the twine.

6 a ring of wood for securing the twine.

It is, however, possible that the part of the picture, where men are represented pouring water from earthen pots, may refer to the process of steeping the stalks of the plant, after they were cut; the square spaces would then indicate the different pits in which they were immersed, containing some less, some more, water, according to the state in which they were required; and this is rendered more probable by the flight of steps, for ascending to the top of the raised sides of the pits; which would not have been introduced if the level ground were intended.


386.              Preparing the flax, beating it, and making it into twine and cloth Beni Hassan.

a, steps leading up to the top of the pits. c c, the flax taken by fig. 3 to dry, previous to beating.

b b, where the flax was steeped. d, the stalks fresh cut.

Fig.              1 brings water in earthen pots. 9 and 10 twisting the yarn into a rope.

4 and 5 are engaged in beating it with mallets, e e. 11 and 12 show that a piece of cloth, i, has been made of the yarn

7 and 6 striking it, after it is made into yarn, on a stone, g. 13, a superintendent.

The steeping, and the subsequent process of beating the stalks with mallets, illustrate the following passage of Pliny upon the same subject:—“The stalks themselves are immersed in water, warmed by the heat of the sun, and are kept down by weights placed upon them; for nothing is lighter than flax. The membrane, or rind, becoming loose is a sign of their being sufficiently macerated. They are then taken out, and repeatedly turned over in the sun, until perfectly dried; and afterwards beaten by mallets on stone slabs. That which is nearest the rind is called tow, inferior to the inner fibres, and fit only for the wicks of lamps. It is combed out with iron hooks, until all the rind is removed. The inner part is of a whiter and finer quality. Men are not ashamed to prepare it.… After it is made into yarn, it is polished by striking it frequently on a hard stone, moistened with water; and when woven into cloth it is again beaten with clubs, being always improved in proportion as it is beaten.”

They also parted and cleansed the fibres of the flax with a sort of comb, probably answering to the iron hooks mentioned by Pliny; two of which, found with some tow at Thebes, are preserved in the Berlin Museum; one having twenty-nine, the other forty-six, teeth. (Woodcut 387.)

The border of some of their cloths consists of long fringes, formed by the projecting threads of the warp, twisted together, and tied at the end in one or more knots, to prevent their unravelling, “precisely,” as Mr. Thomson observes, “like the silk shawls of the present day;” and specimens of the same borders, in pieces of cloth found in the tombs, may be seen in the British Museum, and other collections.

The sculptures, as well as the cloths which have been discovered, perfectly bear out Herodotus in his statement that they had the custom of leaving a fringe to their pieces of linen, which, when the dresses were made up, formed a border round the legs; but they do not appear to have been universally worn. This kind of dress he says was called calasiris. When the fringe was wanting, the border was hemmed, which had the same effect of preventing the unravelling of the cloth; and a fringe was sometimes sewed on, as in many of our imitation shawls. The Jews wore a similar kind of fringed dress, and Moses commanded the children of Israel to “make them fringes in the borders of their garments … and … put upon the fringe of the borders a riband of blue.” (Numbers 15:38.)


387.              Wooden comb found with some tow. Berlin Museum.


388.              Fig. 1. Netting needle of wood.

2.              Part of another of bronze, of later date, found by me at Berenice.

3.              Wooden plane for smoothing or pressing cloth. From Thebes.

Besides the process of making cloth, that of smoothing, or calendering, is represented in the paintings; which seems to have been done by means of wooden rods, passed to and fro over the surface; but from the appearance of some of the fine linen found in the tombs, we may conjecture that much greater pressure was sometimes used for this purpose, such as could only be applied by a press, or cylinders of metal.

For smoothing linen, a wooden substitute for what we call an iron was also used; some of which have been found at Thebes, six inches in length, made of tamarisk wood; but this belonged chiefly to the washerwomen, who had also a wooden instrument for goeffreying fine linen; by which the waving lines were made, so commonly seen in the dresses of the kings and priests.


389.              Goeffreying Machine. Florence Museum.

I have already stated that the Egyptians had carpets, which were a very early invention, being mentioned by Homer, who gives them the same name they are still known by, Tapeta, whence tapis and tapestry. They were used in houses, and were even spread for the sacred animals in Egypt. They were of wool, but of their quality we are unable to form any opinion, the fragments discovered in the tombs being very imperfectly preserved; though there is no doubt of their being portions of carpets. A small rug was also brought to England, and is now in the possession of Mr. Hay.

It is eleven inches long by nine broad; and is made like many carpets of the present day, with woollen threads on linen string. In the centre is the figure of a boy in white, with a goose above it, the hieroglyphic of “child,” upon a green ground; around which is a border composed of red and blue lines; the remainder is a ground of yellow, with four white figures above and below, and one at each side, with blue outlines and red ornaments; and the outer border is made up of red, white, and blue lines, with a fancy device projecting from it, with a triangular summit, which extends entirely round the edge of the carpet. Its date is uncertain; but from the child, the combination of the colours, and the ornament of the border, I am inclined to think it really Egyptian.

I have noticed the use of flax for making ropes, string, and various kinds of twine; for large ropes, however, of ordinary quality, and for common purposes, the leef or fibres of the date tree, were employed, as at the present day; and many specimens of these durable materials have been found in the excavations of Upper and Lower Egypt.

In a tomb at Thebes, of the time of Thothmes III., is represented the process of twisting thongs of leather, which, as it is probably the same as that adopted in rope-making, may be properly introduced here.

The ends of four thongs were inserted and fastened into a hollow tube, from the side of which a bar projected, surmounted by a heavy metal ball; and the man, who twisted them, held the tube in his right hand, whirling it round, as he walked backwards, by means of the impetus given from the ball. A band, attached to a ring at the other end of the tube, went round his body, in order to support it and give it a free action, and the ring turned upon a nut, to prevent the band itself from twisting.

At the other extremity of the walk, his companion, seated on the ground, or on a low three-legged stool, let out the separate thongs, and kept them from becoming entangled. Behind him sat another, who, with the usual semicircular knife, cut the skin into strips, as he turned it round; showing that what we term “the circular cut” was known to the ancient Egyptians 3300 years ago, and that they had already adopted this mode of obtaining the longest thongs from a single piece of leather. Such, too, was Dido’s method, when she persuaded the unsophisticated natives to give up a piece of land as large as she could cover with a bull’s hide, upon which she built Byrsa, the citadel of Carthage.

But the name Byrsa, said to be derived from the “hide,” seems rather to be related to the fortress itself; being found in the names of Birs-Nimroud, Borsippa, the mounds of Boursa, and other places in the East, where towers, or citadels, once stood.



Part 1. Cutting and twisting thongs of leather.

a, a skin hanging up in the shop, indicating the trade of leather cutter. b, cutting thongs out of a circular piece of skin.

d arranges the separate thongs, which are twisted by i, and when finished are bound together and hung up in the shop, g h.

k, a weight, which gives a greater impetus to the tube, l, when thrown round.

m, cobbler, perforating the sole of a sandal to receive the thong.

o, pieces of leather, ready for cutting into soles.

n n, thongs ready for fixing to the sole.

p, an awl. q, a stand.

Part 2. Carpenters.

r, drills a hole in the seat of a chair, s. t t, legs of chairs. u u, hatchets.

v, a right angle. w, man planing or polishing the leg of a chair.

When finished, the twisted thongs were wound round a hollow centre, through which the end was passed, and repeatedly bound over the concentric coils in the same manner as we tie up ropes.

Some, indeed, have supposed the present subject to represent rope-making; but the presence of the skin on the left, and the shoemakers on the right, forming a continuation of the picture, sufficiently prove that they are engaged in preparing leathern thongs for sandals, and other similar purposes.

Their nets were made of flax-string, both for fishing and fowling; and portions of them have been discovered at Thebes. The netting-needles were of wood, very like our own, split at each end, and between ten and eleven inches in length, and others were of bronze, with the point closed.

Sieves were often made of string, but some of an inferior quality, and for coarse work, were constructed of small thin rushes or reeds (very similar to those used by the Egyptians for writing, and frequently found in the tablets of the scribes); a specimen of which kind of sieve is in the Paris Museum. The paintings also represent them made of the same materials; and the first they used were evidently of this humble quality, since the hieroglyphic indicating a sieve is borrowed from them. Horsehair sieves are ascribed by Pliny to the Gauls; the Spaniards, he says, made them of string; and the Egyptians of papyrus-stalks and rushes.

The Egyptians were not less famed for their manufacture of paper, than for the delicate texture of their linen. The plant from which it was made, the Cyperus papyrus of modern botanists, mostly grew in Lower Egypt, in marshy land, or in shallow brooks and ponds formed by the inundation of the Nile, where they bestowed much pains on its cultivation.

The right of growing and selling it belonged to the government, who made a great profit by its monopoly; and though we frequently read of the byblus or papyrus being used for constructing canoes or rude punts, for making baskets, parts of sandals, sails, and for numerous other common purposes, it is evident, that we are to understand, in these instances, some other species of the numerous family of Cyperus; which is also shown by Strabo’s distinguishing the common from “the hieratic byblus.”

The real papyrus, or hieratic byblus, was particularly cultivated in the Sebennytic nome: other parts of the Delta also produced it, and probably even some districts in Upper Egypt. The paper made from it differed in quality, being dependent upon the growth of the plant, and the part of the stalk whence it was taken; and we find many of the papyri which have been preserved vary greatly in their texture and appearance. They are generally fragile, and difficult to unrol, until rendered pliant by gradual exposure to steam, or the damp of our climates; and some are as brittle as if they had been purposely dried.

We are however less surprised at the effect of the parched climate of Upper Egypt, when we consider the length of time they have been kept beyond the reach of moisture; and our drawing paper, after a very few years, becomes so dry in that country, that it is too brittle to fold without breaking. Indeed, those papyri which have not been exposed to the same heat, being preserved in the less arid climate of Lower Egypt, still keep their pliability; and I have a fragment of one from Memphis, which may be bent, and even twisted in any way, without breaking, or without being more injured than a piece of common paper. The hieroglyphics from their style show it to be of an ancient Pharaonic age, and they contain the name of the city where the papyrus was found, “Menofr (or Memphis), the land of the Pyramid.”

The mode of making papyri was this:—The interior of the stalks of the plant, after the rind had been removed, was cut into thin slices in the direction of their length, and these being laid on a flat board, in succession, similar slices were placed over them at right angles; and their surfaces being cemented together by a sort of glue, and subjected to a proper degree of pressure, and well dried, the papyrus was completed. The length of the slices depended of course on the breadth of the intended sheet, as that of the sheet on the number of slices placed in succession beside each other, so that though the breadth was limited, the papyrus might be extended to an indefinite length.

The papyrus is now no longer used, paper from linen rags and other materials having superseded it; but some few individuals continue to make it in Sicily as a curiosity; and sheets from the plant, which still grows in the Anapus, near Syracuse, are offered to travellers, as curious specimens of an obsolete manufacture. I have seen many of these small sheets of papyrus; the manner of placing the pieces is the same as that practised in former times; but the quality of the paper is very inferior to that of ancient Egypt, owing either to the preparation of the slices of the stalk, before they are glued together, or to the coarser texture of the plant itself, certain spots occurring here and there throughout the surface, which are never seen on those discovered in the Egyptian tombs. The plant is now unknown in Egypt; and the only streams that produce it are the Anapus in Sicily, and a small one two miles north of Jaffa, where it was found by the Rev. S. Malan.

Pliny thus describes the plant and the mode of making paper:—“The papyrus grows in the marsh lands of Egypt, or in the stagnant pools left inland by the Nile, after it has returned to its bed, which have not more than two cubits in depth. The root of the plant is the thickness of a man’s arm; it has a triangular stalk, growing not higher than ten cubits (fifteen feet), and decreasing in breadth towards the summit, which is crowned as with a thyrsus, containing no seeds, and of no use except to deck the statues of the gods. They employ the roots as fire-wood, and for making various utensils. They even construct small boats of the plant; and out of the rind, sails, mats, clothes, bedding, and ropes; they eat it either crude or cooked, swallowing only the juice; and when they manufacture paper from it, they divide the stem, by means of a kind of needle, into thin plates, or laminæ, each of which is as large as the plant will admit.…”

“All the paper is woven upon a table, and is continually moistened with Nile water, which being thick and slimy, furnishes an effectual species of glue. In the first place, they form, upon a table perfectly horizontal, a layer the whole length of the papyrus; which is crossed by another placed transversely, and afterwards inclosed within a press. The different sheets are then hung in a situation exposed to the sun, in order to dry, and the process is finally completed by joining them together, beginning with the best. There are seldom more than twenty slips or stripes, produced from one stem of the plant.

“Different kinds of broad paper vary in breadth. The largest, in old times, was the Hieratic, for holy purposes.… The best is now thirteen digits broad; the hieratic two less.… The Saitic is under nine, being only the breadth of the mallet; and the paper used for business is only six digits broad. Besides the breadth, the fineness, compactness, whiteness, and smoothness are particularly regarded;.… when it is coarse it is polished with a (boar’s) tooth, or a shell; but then the writing is more readily effaced, as it does not take the ink so well.” Some sheets of papyrus, of ancient date, were much broader than any he mentions, thirteen digits or fingers being only about nine inches and two-thirds; and the Turin Papyrus of Kings was at least fourteen inches and a half in breadth.

Pliny makes a strange mistake when he supposes that the papyrus was not used for making paper before the time of Alexander the Great, as papyri are of the most remote Pharaonic periods; and the same mode of writing on them is shown from the sculptures to have been common in the age of Suphis, or Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, 2000 years before Alexander’s conquest of Egypt.

It is uncertain until what period paper made of the papyrus continued in general use: there are some deeds and other documents in the Vatican of the fifth and sixth centuries, and in the Munich Library of the seventh, in minuscules; and there is evidence of its having been occasionally employed, to the end of the seventh century, when it was superseded by parchment. All public documents, under Charlemagne and his dynasty, were written on this last, and the papyrus was then entirely given up.

Parchment, indeed, had been invented long before, and is supposed to have been first used for writing in the year 250 before our era, by Eumenes, king of Pergamus; who being desirous of collecting a library which should vie with that of Alexandria, and being prevented by the jealousy of the Ptolemies from obtaining a sufficient quantity of papyrus, had recourse to this substitute; and this adoption of it at Pergamus obtained for it the lasting name of Pergamena (parchment). It was made of the skins of sheep and of calves; but to the former the name of parchment is more correctly applied, as to the latter that of vellum. The use of parchment, or of prepared skins, for writing upon, was not however first suggested at Pergamus; it had been known ages before in Egypt; and “records kept in the temple” are mentioned in the time of the eighteenth Dynasty, 1200 years before Eumenes, written upon skins called Thr, or Tahar—a name which, as Mr. Birch thinks, resembles the Chaldee Tzar. Rolls of leather are also found in the tombs, buried with the deceased in lieu of papyri, which are of a very early period, and were adopted in consequence of the high price of the papyrus paper.

The monopoly of the papyrus in Egypt so increased the price of the commodity, that persons in humble life could not afford to purchase it for ordinary purposes; few documents, therefore, are met with written on papyrus, except funereal rituals, the sales of estates, and official papers, which were absolutely required: and so valuable was it, that they frequently obliterated the old writing, and inscribed another document on the same sheet. The same happened afterwards with those on parchment; Cicero mentions palimpsests in his time; and one of his own treatises (de Republicâ) was subjected to this treatment.

For common purposes, pieces of broken pottery, stone, board, and leather were used; an order to visit some monument, a soldier’s leave of absence, accounts, and various memoranda, were often written on the fragments of an earthenware vase; an artist sketched a picture, which he was about to introduce in a temple or a sepulchre, on a large flat slab of limestone, or on a wooden panel prepared with a thin coating of stucco: and even parts of funereal rituals were inscribed on square pieces of stone, on stuccoed cloth, or on leather. But though a rigid monopoly secured the value of the paper, it did not ensure the employment of the plant in its manufacture; other and better materials were at length discovered for making paper; and the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah (19:7) has come to pass, which foretold the papyrus should “be no more” in Egypt: “The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks,.… shall wither, be driven away, and be no more:” and this Egyptian plant no longer grows in Egypt. Yet its name is destined to survive: the “Bible,” or book, is so called from the byblus, and its other name, papyrus, will be perpetuated in “paper.”

It was perhaps the desire to increase its value that caused its disappearance from Egypt, having been rooted out from every spot except where its cultivation was permitted by the Government; and Pliny either says “it only grew in the nome of Sebennytus;” or that “nothing was grown in that district but the papyrus.”

In the infancy of society various materials were employed for writing, as stones, bricks, tiles, plates of bronze, lead and other metals, wooden tablets, the inner bark (hence liber) and leaves of trees, and the shoulder bones of animals. Wooden tablets, covered with wax, were long in use among the Romans, as well as the papyrus; and the inner bark of trees and pieces of linen had been previously adopted by them about B.C. 440.

Many Eastern people still write on the leaves of trees, or on wooden tablets, and wáraka continues to signify, in Arabic, both “paper” and “a leaf.”

The early Arabs committed their poetry and compositions to the shoulder-bones of sheep: they afterwards obtained the papyrus paper from Egypt, on which the poems called Moallaqât were written, in gold letters; and after their conquests in Asia and Africa, these people so speedily profited by the inventions of the nations they subdued, that parchment was manufactured in Syria, Arabia, and Egypt, which in colour and delicacy might vie with our modern paper. It speedily superseded the use of the papyrus, and continued to be employed until the discovery of the method of making paper from cotton, and silk, called Carta bombycina, which is proved by Montfaucon to have been known at least as early as A.D. 1100; and is supposed to have been invented about the beginning of the ninth century. Being introduced into Spain from Syria, it was denominated Carta Damascena; and manuscripts on cotton paper are said to exist in the Escurial, written in the eleventh century. There are also some on cotton paper in the Munich library, of the eleventh century; and of linen at the beginning of the fourteenth.

It is a matter of doubt to what nation, and period, the invention of paper manufactured from linen ought to be ascribed. The Chinese were acquainted with the secret of making it from various vegetable substances long before it was known in Europe; the perfection to which they have carried this branch of art continues to excite our admiration; and “the librarian Casiri relates,” according to Gibbon, “from credible testimony, that paper was first imported from China to Samarcand A.H. 30 (A.D. 652), and invented, or rather introduced, at Mecca A.H. 88 (A.D. 710).”

It may, however, be questioned whether it was made from linen at that early period, and we have no positive proof of linen paper being known even by the Saracens, prior to the eleventh century. The Moors, as might be expected, soon introduced it into Spain, and the Escurial library is said to contain manuscripts written on this kind of paper, as old as the twelfth century.

But paper of mixed cotton and linen, which was made at the same time, appears to have been in more general use; and linen paper continued to be rare in most European countries till the fifteenth century. That it was known in Germany as early as the year 1312 has been satisfactorily ascertained by existing documents, and a letter on linen paper, written from Germany to Hugh Despencer, about the year 1315, is preserved in the Chapter-house at Westminster; which, even to the water-mark, resembles that made at the present day.

It was not till the close of the sixteenth century that paper was manufactured in England. The first was merely of a coarse brown quality, very similar to that of the modern Arabs, whose skill in this, as in many arts and sciences, has been transferred to people once scarcely known to them, and then greatly their inferiors; and writing or printing paper was not made in London before 1690; France and Holland having, till that time, supplied us with an annual importation, to the amount of nearly 100,000 pounds.

The tanning and preparation of leather was also a branch of art, in which the Egyptians evinced considerable skill; the leather cutters constituted one of the principal subdivisions of the fourth-class; and a district of the city was exclusively appropriated to them, in the Libyan part of Thebes; where they were known as “the leather-cutters of the Memnonia.”

Leather is little capable of resisting the action of damp, and other causes of destruction, so that we cannot reasonably expect to find much of it in a good state of preservation; but the fine quality of the straps, placed across the bodies of mummies, discovered at Thebes, and the beauty of the figures stamped upon them, satisfactorily prove the skill of “the leather cutters,” as well as the antiquity of embossing; and those bearing the names of Sheshonk (Shishak), the contemporary of Solomon, and the other kings of that dynasty, are perfectly preserved.

Many of the occupations of their trade are portrayed on the painted walls of the tombs at Thebes. They made shoes, sandals, the coverings and seats of chairs or sofas, bow-cases, and most of the ornamental furniture of the chariot; harps were also adorned with coloured leather, and shields and numerous other things were covered with skin prepared in various ways. They also made skins for carrying water, wine, and other liquids; coated within with a resinous substance, as is still the custom in Egypt.

Part of the process of curing the skins is introduced in the sculptures; and that of dyeing them is mentioned in the Bible, being doubtless borrowed by the Jews from Egypt. In one instance, a man is represented dipping the hide into a vase, probably containing water, in which it was suffered to soak, preparatory to the lime being applied to remove the hair; a process very similar to that adopted at the present day in the East.

The Arabs prefer the acrid juice of a plant growing in the desert, for the purpose; as its effect is still more rapid, and as it has the advantage of making the skin better and more durable.

This plant is the Periploca Secamone; its stalks contain a white milky juice, which exudes from it when bruised, and which is so acrid as to be highly injurious to the eye, or to the wounded skin. It supports itself by winding around every neighbouring shrub, and its not ungraceful stalks appear to have been occasionally used by the ancient Egyptians, for the same ornamental purpose as the ivy, the nightshade, and the convolvulus, in forming festoons. But though there is no proof of its having been employed by them in curing skins, it is very probable, as they were so well acquainted with the properties of the plants of the desert and the valley of the Nile; and curriers are represented in the sculptures of Thebes, pounding something in a mortar, which is either the periploca, lime, or some other substance required for the purpose.

According to the Arabs, the method of preparing skins with the periploca (their Ghulga) is as follows:—“The skins are first put into flour and salt for three days, and are cleansed of all the fat and impurities of the inside. The stalks of the plant, being pounded between large stones, are then put into water, which is applied to the inner side of the skin for one day, and the hair having fallen off, the skin is left to dry for two or three days, and the process is completed.”

The mode of stretching or bending leather over a form is frequently represented at Thebes; and the semicircular knife, similar to that of our modern curriers, is commonly used by them. The curriers and shoemakers had also a sort of chisel, the common awl (specimens of which have been found at Thebes, similar to our own), a stone for polishing the leather, the cutting table, the bending form, the horn, and a few other utensils; and a prepared skin, the emblem of their trade, was suspended, together with ready-made shoes and other articles, to indicate their skill, and to invite a customer. (Woodcuts 333, 390, and 392, part 1.)

The shops of an Egyptian town were probably similar to those of Cairo and other Eastern cities, which consist of a square room, open in front, with falling or sliding shutters to close it at night; and the goods, ranged on shelves or suspended against the walls, are exposed to the view of those who pass. In front is generally a raised seat, where the owner of the shop and his customers sit during the long process of concluding a bargain previous to the sale and purchase of the smallest article; and here an idle lounger frequently passes whole hours, less intent on benefiting the shopkeeper than in amusing himself with the busy scene of the passing crowd.

Among the many curious customs introduced in the paintings, and still retained in the East, is that of holding a strap of leather, or other substance, with the toes, which, if always free and unincumbered with tight shoes, retain their full power and pliability; and the singular, I may say primitive, mode of tightening a thong with the teeth, while sewing a shoe, is also portrayed in the paintings of the same time.


391.              Currier holding a strap of leather with his toes, while cutting it. Thebes.

b b are straps tied up, and deposited in the shop.

It is probable that, as at the present day, they ate in the open front of their shops, exposed to the view of every one who passed; and to this custom Herodotus may allude, when he says, “the Egyptians eat in the street.”

There is no direct evidence that the ancient Egyptians affixed the name and trade of the owner of the shop, though the presence of hieroglyphics, denoting this last, together with the emblem which indicated it, may seem to argue in favour of the custom; and the absence of many individuals’ names in the sculptures is readily accounted for by the fact, that these scenes refer to the occupation of the whole trade, and not to any particular person.

Of all people, we may suppose Egyptian shopkeepers most likely to display the patronage received from royalty, the name of a monarch being so often introduced in the most conspicuous manner on the coffins of private individuals, and in the paintings of the tombs; many of the scarabæi they wore presenting the name of a king; and the most ordinary devices being formed to resemble a royal oval. But whether or not they had this custom, or that of affixing the name and occupation of the tradesman, it is difficult to determine; and indeed in those cities where certain districts were set apart for particular trades, the latter distinction was evidently uncalled for and superfluous.


392.              Part 1. Shoemakers.

Part 2. Men employed in polishing a column, probably of wood. Thebes.

Fig. 1. Making a hole with an awl. 2. Tightening a thong with his teeth.

b b. Sandals hanging up in the shop. c to i. Various tools; l an adze.

The great consumption of leather in Egypt, and the various purposes to which skins, both in the tanned and raw state, were applied, created a demand far greater than could be satisfied by the produce of the country; they, therefore, imported skins from foreign countries, and part of the tribute levied on the conquered tribes of Asia and Africa consisted of hides, and the skins of wild animals, as the leopard, fox, and others; which are frequently represented in the paintings of Thebes, laid before the throne of a Pharaoh, together with gold, silver, ivory, rare woods, and the various productions of each vanquished country.

For tanning they used the pods of the Sont, or Acacia (Acacia, or Mimosa, Nilotica), the acanthus of Strabo and other writers, which was cultivated in many parts of Egypt, being also prized for its timber, charcoal, and gum; and it is probable that the bark and wood of the Rhus oxyacanthoïdes, and the bark of the Acacia Séál, both natives of the desert, were employed for the same purpose.

Many persons, both men and women, were engaged in cleaning cloths and stuffs of various kinds; and the occupations of the fuller form some of the numerous subjects of the sculptures. It is probable that they were only a subdivision of the dyers. In early times, before, and even after, the invention of soap, potash, nitre, and several earths, were employed for cleansing cloths, as well as various herbs, many of which are still in use among the Arabs, one of which was doubtless the alkaline plant boréeth, mentioned by Jeremiah (2:22) and Malachi (3:2). Many of the Suædas and Salsolas, and other alkaline plants, are found in the Egyptian deserts, as well as the gilloo, also called “the soap plant;” and the people of Cairo and the Barbary coast use certain woods for cleansing manufactured stuffs.


393.              Fullers. Beni Hassan.

a b. Inclined tables. c c. The water running off into the trough below.

A far more numerous class were the potters; and all the processes of mixing the clay, and of turning, baking, and polishing the vases, are represented in the tombs of Thebes and Beni Hassan.

They frequently kneaded the clay with their feet, and after it had been properly worked up, they formed it into a mass of convenient size with the hand, and placed it on the wheel, which was of very simple construction, and generally turned with the hand. The various forms of the vases were made out by the finger during their revolution; the handles, if they had any, were afterwards affixed to them; and the devices and other ornamental parts were traced with a wooden or metal instrument, previous to their being baked. They were then suffered to dry, and for this purpose were placed on planks of wood; they were afterwards arranged with great care in trays, and carried, by means of the usual yoke, borne on men’s shoulders, to the oven.

Many of the vases, bottles, and pans of ordinary quality were very similar to those made in Egypt at the present day, as we see from the representations in the paintings, and from those found in the tombs, or in the ruins of old towns; and judging from the number of Coptic words applied to the different kinds, their names were as varied as their forms. Coptos and its vicinity were always noted for this manufacture; the clays found there were peculiarly suited for porous vases to cool water; and their qualities are fully manifested, at the present day, in the goolleh or bardak bottles, of the neighbourhood, made at the modern towns of Ḳéneh and Ballás.

That the forms of the modern goollehs are borrowed from those of an ancient time is evident, from the fragments found amidst the mounds of ancient towns and villages, as well as from the many preserved entire; and a local tradition asserts that the modern manufacture is borrowed from, and has succeeded without interruption to, that of former days.

It is impossible to fix the period of the invention of the potter’s wheel, and the assertion of Pliny, who attributes it to Corœbus the Athenian is disproved by the evidence of the Egyptian monuments, which prove it was known previous to the arrival of Joseph, and consequently long before the foundation of Athens.


394.              Potters’ earthenware vases. Beni Hassan.

a, e, i, p, the wheels on which the clay was put. Fig. 1 forms the inside the lip of the cup as it turns on the wheel a. b c d are cups already made.

Fig. 2 forms the outside of the cup, indenting it with the hand at the base, preparatory to its being taken off.

Fig. 3 has just taken off the cup from the clay l. Fig. 4 puts on a fresh piece of clay. Fig. 5 forms a round slab of clay with his two hands.

Fig. 6 stirs and prepares the oven q. At s is the fire which rises through the long narrow tube or chimney of the oven, upon the top of which the cups are placed to bake, as in v.

Fig. 7 hands the cup to the baker 8.

Fig. 9 carries away the baked cups from the oven.

But Pliny’s chapter of inventions abounds with errors of this kind, and serves to show how commonly the Greeks adopted the discoveries of other nations, particularly of Egypt and Phœnicia, and claimed them as their own: even the art of cutting stones is attributed to Cadmus of Thebes; and Thales of Miletus is said to have enlightened the Egyptians, under whom he had long been studying, by teaching them to measure the altitude of a pyramid, or other body, by its shadow, at the late period of 600 B.C. But we cannot suppose that the Greeks taught their instructors a discovery, of which men so skilful in astronomy and mathematics could not have been ignorant; and however superior they afterwards became in all branches of science, they were in their infancy long after the decline of Egypt.

The Egyptians displayed much taste in their gold, silver, porcelain, and glass vases, but when made of earthenware, for ordinary purposes, they were frequently devoid of elegance, and scarcely superior to those of England before the taste of Wedge-wood substituted the graceful forms of Greek models, for some of the unseemly productions of our old potteries. Though the clay of Upper Egypt was particularly suited to porous bottles, it could not be obtained of a sufficiently fine quality for the manufacture of vases like those of Greece and Italy; in Egypt, too, good taste did not extend to all classes, as in Greece; and vases used for fetching water from a well, or from the Nile, were of a very ordinary kind, far inferior to those carried by the Athenian women to the fountain of Kallirhoë.

The Greeks, it is true, were indebted to Egypt for much useful knowledge, and for many early hints in art, but they speedily surpassed their instructors; and in nothing, perhaps, is this more strikingly manifested than in the productions of the potter.

Carpenters and cabinet-makers were a very numerous class of workmen: and their occupations form one of the most important subjects in the paintings which represent the Egyptian trades.

Egypt produced little wood; and with the exception of the date and dôm palms, the sycamore, tamarisk, and acacias, few trees of native growth afforded timber either for building, or for ornamental purposes.

The principal uses of the date and dôm trees have been already mentioned.

For coffins, boxes, tables, doors, and other objects, which required large and thick planks, for idols and wooden statues, the sycamore was principally employed; and from the quantity discovered in the tombs alone, it is evident that the tree was cultivated to a great extent. It had the additional recommendation of bearing a fruit, to which the Egyptians were very partial; and a religious prejudice claimed for it, and the Persea, the name and rank of sacred fruit-trees. It is even now looked upon with favour; and when a foreigner is leaving the country, his Egyptian friends ask him if he has ever eaten any sycamore-figs, and on his answering in the affirmative, express their delight at the prospect of his return, saying, “whoever has eaten sycamore-figs is sure to come back to Egypt.”

The tamarisk was preferred for the handles of tools, wooden hoes, and other things requiring a hard and compact wood; and of the acacia were made the planks and masts of boats, the handles of offensive weapons of war, and various articles of furniture. Large groves of this tree were cultivated in many parts of Egypt; especially in the vicinity of Memphis and Abydus; and besides its timber, the acacia was highly valued for the pods it produced, so useful for tanning, and for the gum, which exudes from the trunk and branches, now known under the name of gum Arabic. This tree is not less prized by the modern Egyptians, who have retained its name as well as its uses; sont being applied to this species of acacia, both in Arabic and the ancient Egyptian language.

Besides the Sont, or Acacia (Mimosa) Nilotica, the Sellem, Sumr, Tulh, Fitneh, Lebbekh, and other acacias, which grew in Egypt, were also adapted to various purposes; and some instances are met with of the wood of the Egleeg or Balanites Ægyptiaca, and of different desert trees having been used by the Egyptian carpenters.

For ornamental purposes, and sometimes even for coffins, doors, and boxes, foreign woods were employed; deal and cedar were imported from Syria; and part of the contributions, exacted from the conquered tribes of Ethiopia, and Asia, consisted in ebony and other rare woods, which were annually brought by the chiefs, deputed to present their country’s tribute to the Egyptian Pharaohs.

Boxes, chairs, tables, sofas, and other pieces of furniture were frequently made of ebony, inlaid with ivory; sycamore and acacia were veneered with thin layers, or ornamented with carved devices, of rare wood, applied, or let into them; and a fondness for this display suggested to the Egyptians the art of painting common boards, to imitate foreign varieties, so generally adopted in other countries at the present day.

The colours were usually applied on a thin coating of stucco, laid smoothly upon the previously prepared wood, and the various knots and grains, painted upon this ground, indicated the quality of the wood they intended to counterfeit.

The usual tools of the carpenter were the axe, adze, hand-saw, chisels of various kinds (which were struck with a wooden mallet), the drill, and two sorts of planes (one resembling a chisel, the other apparently of stone, acting as a rasp on the surface of the wood, which was afterwards polished by a smooth body, probably also of stone); and these with the ruler, plummet, and right angle, a leather bag containing nails, the hone, and the horn of oil, constituted the principal, and perhaps the only, implements he used.

Some of the furniture of their rooms, the work of the cabinetmaker, I have already noticed| as well as the perfection to which they had arrived in the construction of the chairs and ottomans of their saloons; nor can I omit the mention of the art of dovetailing, already practised in the earliest Pharaonic ages, or the mode of applying two planks together in the same plane, by means of broad pins, or tongues, of hard wood. Of the former numerous instances occur, both in large and small objects, and no illustration of it is required; the latter is peculiar, and shows the great care taken to make every thing durable, which characterizes all the works of the Egyptians.


395.              In the British Museum.

              Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4. Chisels and drills.

5.              Part of drill.

6.              Nut of wood belonging to drill.

7,              8. Saws.

9.              Horn of oil.

10.              Mallet.

11.              Bag for nails.

12.              Basket which held them.

When two boards are joined together by our modern carpenters, they fix small round pins horizontally, into corresponding parts of the edges, which are then applied together, so as to form as it were a single piece; but the cautious Egyptian carpenter was not content with this; and having used flat pins for the purpose about two inches in breadth, he secured these again, after the boards had been put together, by round pins or wooden nails, driven vertically through the boards, into each of the flat pins; and thus the possibility of the joint opening was effectually prevented, even should the glue, which was added as in our modern boxes, fail to hold them.

After the wood had been reduced to a proper size by the saw, the adze was the principal tool employed for fashioning it; and from the precision with which even the smallest objects are worked with it at the present day, by the unskilful carpenters of modern Egypt, we may form some idea of its use in the hands of their expert predecessors.

Many adzes, saws, and chisels, have been found at Thebes. The blades are all of bronze, the handles of the acacia or the tamarisk; and the general mode of fastening the blade to the handle appears to have been by thongs of hide. It is probable that some of those discovered in the tombs are only models, or unfinished specimens; and it may have been thought sufficient to show their external appearance, without the necessity of nailing them, beneath the thongs; for those they worked with were bound in the same manner, though I believe them to have been also secured with nails. Some, however, evidently belonged to the individuals in whose tombs they were buried, and appear to have been used; and the chisels often bear signs of having been beaten with the mallet.

The drill is frequently represented in the sculptures. Like all the other tools, it was of the earliest date, and precisely similar to that of modern Egypt, even to the nut of the dóm in which it turned, and the form of its bow with a leathern thong.

The chisel was employed for the same purposes, and in the same manner, as at the present day, and was struck with a wooden mallet, sometimes flat at the two ends, sometimes of circular or oval form; several of which last have been found at Thebes, and are in our European museums. The handles of the chisel were of acacia, tamarisk, or other compact wood; the blades of bronze; and the form of the points varied in breadth, according to the work for which they were intended.


396.              Veneering and the use of glue. Thebes.

a, a piece of dark wood applied to one of ordinary quality, b. c, adze, fixed into a block of wood of the same colour as b.

e, a ruler; and f, a right angle, similar to those used by our carpenters. g, a box.

Fig. 2 is grinding something. i, glue-pot on the fire. j, a piece of glue. Fig. 3 applying the glue with a brush, p.

The hatchet was principally used by boat-builders, and those who made large pieces of framework; and trees were felled with the same instrument.

The mode of sawing timber was primitive and imperfect, owing to their not having adopted the double saw; and they were obliged to cut every piece of wood, however large, single-handed. In order, therefore, to divide a beam into planks, they placed it, if not of very great length, upright between two posts, firmly fixed in the ground, and being lashed to them with cords, or secured with pins, it was held as in a vice.

Among the many occupations of the carpenter, that of veneering is noticed in the sculptures of Thebes, as early as the time of the third Thothmes; and the application of a piece of rare wood of a red colour, to a yellow plank of more ordinary kind, is clearly pointed out. And in order to show that the yellow wood is of inferior quality, the workman is represented to have fixed his adze carelessly in a block of the same colour, while engaged in applying them together. Near him are some of his tools, with a box or small chest, made of inlaid and veneered wood, of various hues; and in the same part of the shop are two other men, one employed in grinding something with a stone on a slab, and the other in spreading glue with a brush.

It might be conjectured that paint, or a varnish were here represented; but the pot on the fire, the piece of glue with its concave fracture, and the workman before mentioned, applying the two pieces of wood together, decide the question, and attest the invention of glue nearly 3300 years ago. This is not, however, the only proof of its use at an early period, and several wooden boxes and coffins have been found, in which glue was employed to fasten the joints. It appears sometimes to be a fish glue.

Various boxes, shrines, articles of furniture, and other works of the cabinet-maker are frequently introduced in the paintings of Thebes, many of which present not inelegant forms, and are beautifully made. Several of the smaller objects, as boxes for trinkets and ointment, wooden spoons, and the like, have been mentioned among the furniture of their rooms; where I have also described a curious substitute for a hinge, in some of those discovered at Thebes.

Many boxes had lids resembling the curved summit of a royal canopy, and were ornamented with the usual cornice; others had a simple flat cover; and some few a pointed summit, resembling the shelving roof of a house. This last kind of lid was divided into two parts, one of which alone opened, turning on two small pins at the base, on the principle of the doors of their houses and temples; and when necessary, the two knobs at the top| could be tied together and sealed.

When not veneered, or inlaid with rare wood, the sides and lid were painted, and those intended for the tombs, to be deposited there in honour of the deceased, had usually funereal inscriptions, or religious subjects painted upon them, among which were offerings presented by members of their family.


397.              Different boxes.

Figs. 1 and 2. Mode of placing the lid when the box was opened.

3. Man opening a box, from a painting at Thebes.

4 and 5. A painted box, showing how the lid opened.

6 and 7. Boxes from the paintings of Thebes.

8. Another painted box with a shelving lid, from Thebes, now at Alnwick Castle.

Several boxes have been found at Thebes; and in the British Museum is one remarkable for the brilliancy of the colours given to the ivory, with which it is inlaid. The box is of ebony; the ivory, painted red and blue, is let into the sides and edges, and the lid is ornamented in the same manner. There is in this a substitute for a hinge, similar to the one before mentioned, except that here the back of the cross bar, cut to a sharp edge along its whole extent, fits into a corresponding groove at the end of the box: and the two knobs are fixed in their usual place at the top and front.

The lids of many boxes were made to slide in a groove, like our small colour boxes; others fitted into the body, being cut away at the edges for this purpose; and some turned on a pin at the back, as I have shown in the long-handled boxes before mentioned.

In opening a large box they frequently pushed back the lid, and then either turned it sideways and left it standing across the breadth of the box, or suffered it to go to the ground; but in those of still larger dimensions, it was removed altogether and laid upon the floor. Others with a pointed top had a projection under what may be called the end, or corbel of the gables, on the side that opened, in order that the lid might fall down and lie out of the way close to the side of the box, while the things were taken out of it.|

With the carpenters may be mentioned the wheelwrights, the makers of coffins, and the coopers; and this subdivision of one class of artisans shows that they had systematically adopted the partition of labour.

The makers of chariots and travelling carriages were of the same class; but both carpenters and workers in leather were employed in their manufacture; and chariots either passed through the hands of both, or, which is more probable, chariot makers constituted a distinct trade.


398.              Bandaging mummies and making the cases. Thebes.

Fig.              1, sawing wood. 2, cutting the leg of a chair, indicating the trade of the carpenter. 3, a man fallen asleep.

c c, wood ready for cutting. d, onions and other provisions; which occur again at g, with vases f f. 4, 5, and 7, binding mummies.

6, brings the bandages. 9, using the drill. 8, 10, and 11, painting and polishing the case.

Palanquins, canopies, and other wooden chests for travelling and religious purposes, were the work of cabinet makers or carpenters; but the makers of coffins were distinct from both of these. The undertakers, properly so called, were also a different class of people from these last, being attached to and even forming part of the sacerdotal order, though of an inferior grade. Indeed the ceremonies of the dead were so numerous, and so many persons were engaged in performing the several duties connected with them, that no particular class of people can be said to have had the sole direction in these matters; and we find that the highest orders of priests officiated in some, and in others those of a very subordinate station. Thus the embalmers were held in the highest consideration, while those who cut open the body, when the intestines were removed, are said to have been treated with ignominy and contempt. Those who swathed the body in bandages were called Colchitæ by the Greeks.

As in other trades, that of making coffins, or mummy cases, was a separate and distinct occupation, and it combined the work of the carpenter, the painter, and some others; while at the same time the coffin-maker included in his labours the manufacture of boxes, wooden figures, and other objects connected with funerals.

The boat-builders may be divided into two separate and distinct trades, one of which formed a subdivision of the carpenters; the other of the basket-makers, or the weavers of rushes and osiers, another very numerous branch.

The boats made by these last were a sort of canoe, or punt, used for fishing, and consisted merely of water plants or osiers, bound together with bands made of the stalks of the common papyrus. They were very light, and some so small that they could easily be carried from one place to another; and the Ethiopian boats, mentioned by Pliny, which were taken out of the water, and carried on men’s shoulders past the rapids of the cataracts, were probably of a similar kind; though Strabo describes the boats at the cataracts of Syene passing the falls in perfect security, and exciting the surprise of the beholders, before whom the boatmen delighted in displaying their skill. These too are said by Celsius to have been made of the papyrus.

Papyrus boats are frequently noticed by ancient writers. Plutarch describes Isis going in search of the body of Osiris “through the fenny country, in a bark made of the papyrus, whence it is supposed that persons using boats of this description are never attacked by crocodiles, out of fear and respect to the goddess;” and Moses is said to have been exposed in “an ark (or boat) of bulrushes, daubed with slime and with pitch.” From this last we derive additional proof that the body of such boats was composed of rushes, which were bound together with the papyrus; and the mode of rendering them impervious to water is satisfactorily pointed out by the coating of pitch with which they were covered. Nor can there be any doubt that pitch was known in Egypt at that time, since we find it on objects which have been preserved of the same early date; and the Hebrew word zift is precisely the same as that used for “pitch” by the Arabs to the present day. It was also applied by the ancient Egyptians to “bitumen.”

Pliny mentions boats “woven of the papyrus,” the rind being made into sails, curtains, matting, ropes, and even into cloth; and observes elsewhere that the papyrus, the rush, and the reed, were all used for making boats in Egypt.

“Vessels of bulrushes” are again mentioned in Isaiah: Lucan alludes to the mode of binding or sewing them with bands of papyrus; and Theophrastus notices boats made of the papyrus, and sails and ropes of the rind of the same plant. That small boats were made of these materials is certain; and the sculptures of Thebes, Memphis, and other places, abundantly show that they were employed as punts, or canoes, for fishing in all parts of Egypt during the inundation of the Nile, particularly in the lakes and canals of the Delta. And the “Memphite bark bound together with the papyrus,” that Lucan describes, is figured in the Memphite sculptures, as well as on the monuments of Upper Egypt.


399.              Making a papyrus boat. Tomb at the Pyramids.

There was another kind, in one of which Strabo crossed the Nile to the Island of Philæ, “made of thongs so as to resemble wicker-work;” but it does not appear from his account whether it was formed of reeds bound together with thongs, or was like those made in Armenia, and used for going down the river to Babylon, which Herodotus describes, of osiers covered with hides (like British coracles), and which are represented on the Nimroud marbles. Strabo also mentions another, used on the canals during the inundation, of still more simple construction, in which, if we might substitute, what is probable, earthenware bottles or gourds for shells, we should recognise a modern Egyptian custom.

The Armenian boats were merely employed for transporting goods down the current of the Euphrates, and on reaching Babylon were broken up, the hides being put upon the asses which had been taken on board for this purpose, and the traders returning home by land. “They were round, in the form of a shield, without either head or stern, the hollow part of the centre being filled with straw.” “Some were large, others small, and the largest were capable of bearing 5000 talents weight.” They were, therefore, very different from the boats reported by the same historian to have been made in Egypt for transporting goods up the Nile, which he describes as being built in the form of ordinary boats, with a keel and a mast and sails.

“The Egyptian boats of burthen,” he says, “are made of a thorn wood, very similar to the lotus of Cyrene, from which a tear exudes, called gum. Of this tree they cut planks measuring about two cubits, and having arranged them like bricks, they build the boat in the following manner:—They fasten the planks round firm long pegs, and, after this, stretch over the surface a series of girths, but without any ribs; and the whole is bound within by bands of papyrus. A single rudder is then put through the keel, and a mast of thorn-wood, and sails of the papyrus (rind), complete the rigging. These boats can only ascend the stream with a strong wind, unless they are towed by ropes from the shore; and, when coming down the river, they are provided with a hurdle made of tamarisk, sewed together with reeds, and a stone about two talents weight, with a hole in the centre. The hurdle is fastened to the head of the boat, and allowed to float on the water: the stone is attached to the stern, so that the former, carried down the river by the rapidity of the stream, draws after it the baris (for such is the name of these vessels), and the latter, dragged behind, and sinking into the water, serves to direct its course. They have many of these boats, some of which carry several thousand talents weight.”

That boats of the peculiar construction he here describes were really used in Egypt is very probable; they may have been employed to carry goods from one town to another, and navigated in the manner he mentions; but we may be allowed to doubt their carrying several thousand talents, or many tons, weight; and we have the evidence of the paintings of Upper and Lower Egypt to show that the large boats of burthen were made of wooden planks, which men are seen cutting with saws and hatchets, and afterwards fastening together with nails and pins; and they were furnished with spacious cabins like those of modern Egypt. Those with planks, put together in the form of bricks, are also represented in the time of the 12th dynasty; but the use of the mallet and chisel, and the pins hammered into the holes to fasten the planks, show that they were not dependent on papyrus bands for their security; their construction was very like that of the modern Egyptian boats; and Herodotus has confounded the papyrus punt with the boat of burthen.

Pliny even goes farther than Herodotus, and speaks of papyrus vessels crossing the sea, and visiting the Isle of Taprobane (Ceylon), which would throw the Chinese junk of modern days very far into the shade.

But though punts and canoes of osiers, papyrus, or reeds, may have been used on some occasions, as they still are, on the Nile and the lakes of Egypt, we know that the Egyptians had strong and well built vessels for the purposes of trade by sea, and for carrying merchandise, corn, and other heavy commodities on the Nile; and that, even if they had been very bold and skilful navigators, they would not have ventured to India, nor have defeated the fleets of Phœnicia, in their “paper vessels.”

The sails, when made of the rind of the papyrus, were similar to those of the Chinese, which fold up like our Venetian blinds; but there is only one boat represented in the paintings, which appears to have sails of this kind, though so many are introduced there. It is of very early date; and we cannot readily believe that a people, noted for their manufactures of linen and other cloths, would have preferred so imperfect a substitute as the rind of a plant, especially as they exported sail-cloth to Phœnicia for that very purpose.

The construction of the various boats used on the Nile varied, according to the purposes for which they were intended. The punts or canoes being either pushed with a pole, or propelled with a paddle, had no mast, nor even rudder; and many of the small boats, intended merely for rowing, were unprovided with a mast or sails. They were also without the raised cabin, common in large sailing boats, and the rowers appear to have been seated on the flat deck, which covered the interior from the head to the stern, pushing instead of pulling the oars, contrary to the usual custom in boats of larger dimensions. The absence of a mast did not altogether depend on the size of the boat, since those belonging to fishermen, which were very small, were often furnished with a sail, besides three or four oars; and some large boats, intended for carrying cattle and heavy goods, were sometimes without a mast.

In going up the Nile, they used the sail, whenever the wind was favourable; occasionally rowing, in those parts where the windings of the river brought it too much upon the bows; for it is probable that, like the modern Egyptians, they did not tack; and when the wind was contrary, or during a calm, they generally employed the tow-line, which was pulled by men on shore.


400.              Boats for carrying cattle and goods on the Nile. Thebes.

a b, two boats, fastened to the bank by the ropes and pegs f f; in the cabin of one a man inflicts the bastinado on a boatman. He is one of the stewards of the estate, and is accompanied by his dog. In the other boat is a cow, and a net of hay or chopped straw (e), precisely the same as the shenfeh now used in Egypt.


401.              A boat with the mast and sail taken down, having a chariot and horses on board. Eileithyias.

After they had reached the southernmost point of their journey up the stream, the sail was no longer considered necessary; and the mast and yards being taken down, were laid over the top of the cabin, or on a short temporary mast, with a forked summit; precisely in the same way as at the present day, on board the cangias, and other masted rowing boats of Egypt. For as the wind generally blows from the N.W., it seldom happens that the sail can be used in going down the Nile, and in a strong wind the mast and rigging are so great an incumbrance, that the boat is unable to make much way against it with oars.

The heavy boats of burden, which from their great size cannot be propelled by oars, are suffered to retain their masts and sails, and float down the river sideways at the rate of the stream, advantage being taken of the wind whenever the bends of the river permit; and the large germs, used for carrying corn during the inundation, are only employed when the water is very deep, and are laid up the rest of the year, and covered with matting from the sun. These, therefore, form exceptions to the ordinary boats of the Nile, and may be considered similar to some represented in the sculptures of Tel el Amarna; which are fastened to the shore by several large ropes, and are shown from the size of their cabins, the large awning in front for covering the goods they carried, and the absence of oars, to have been of unusual dimensions.

In the one given in the preceding wood-cut, from a tomb at Eileithyias, the size of the cabin, the horses taken on board with the chariot, and its height out of water, show that the common travelling boat was large and commodious; and we see that the cabin, as usual, was in the centre, with room enough on each side for the rowers to sit between it and the gunwale.

Large boats had generally one, small pleasure-boats two rudders, at the stern. The former traversed upon a beam, between two projecting heads, a short pillar or mast supporting it, and acting as the centre on which it moved; the latter were nearly the same in principle, except that they turned on a bar, or in a ring, by which they were suspended to the gunwale at either side: and in both instances the steersman directed them by means of a rope fastened to the upper extremity. The rudders consisted of a long broad blade and still longer handle; evidently made in imitation of the oars, by which they originally steered their boats, before they had so far improved them as to adopt a fixed rudder; and in order to facilitate its motion upon the mast or pillar, and to avoid the friction of the wood, a piece of bull’s hide was introduced, as is the custom in the modern boats, between the mast and yard.

The oar was a long round wooden shaft, to which a flat board, either oval, circular, or of diamond shape, was fastened; the same as still used on the Ganges, and in the Arabian Gulf. It turned either on a toll-pin, or in a ring, fastened to the gunwale of the boat; and the rowers sat on the deck, on benches, or on low seats, or stood or knelt to the oar, sometimes pushing it forwards, sometimes, and indeed more generally, pulling it, as is the modern custom in Egypt, and most other countries.

At the head of the boat a man usually stood, with a long pole in his hand, to sound every now and then, and prevent its running upon any of the numerous sandbanks in the river (which, from their often changing at the time of the inundation, are not always known to the most skilful pilot); a precaution adopted not always in time by the modern boatmen of the Nile.

That the ancient Egyptian boats were built with ribs, like those of the present day, is sufficiently proved by the rude models discovered in the tombs of Thebes. It is probable that they had very little keel, in order to enable them to avoid the sand-banks, and to facilitate their removal from them when they struck; and, indeed, if we may judge from the models, they appear to have been flat-bottomed. The boats now used on the Nile have a very small keel, particularly at the centre, where it is concave; so that when the head strikes, they put to the helm, and the hollow part clears the bank: except in those cases where the impetus is too great, or the first warning is neglected.

The sails of the ancient boats appear to have been always square, with one yard above; and none below in those of the oldest construction; this last having been introduced when they abandoned the double mast of early times. The square sail is still retained in Ethiopia, where it is furled by forcibly rolling up the lower yard in the sail; but in Egypt the only modern boats with square sails are a sort of lighter, employed for conveying stones from the quarries to Cairo and other places; and these have only a yard at the top. All other boats have latine or triangular-shaped sails, which, in order to catch the wind when the Nile is low, are made of immense size: for unless they reach above its lofty banks, they are often prevented from benefiting by a side wind at that season of the year; but the number of accidents which occur are a great objection to the use of such disproportionate sails.

The cabins of the Egyptian pleasure-boats were lofty and spacious; but even in the smallest they did not extend over the whole breadth of the boat, as they do in the modern cangias, and merely occupied the centre; the rowers sitting on either side, generally on a bench or stool. They were made of wood, with a door in front, or sometimes on one side, and they were painted within and without with numerous devices, in brilliant and lively colours. The same custom continued to the latest times, long after the conquest of the country by the Romans; and when the Arabs invaded Egypt in 638, under Amer, the general of the Caliph Omer, one of the objects which struck them with surprise was the gay appearance of the painted boats of the Nile.

The lotus was one of their favourite devices, as on their furniture, the ceilings of rooms, and other places, and it was very common on the blade of the rudder, where it was frequently repeated at both ends, together with the eye of Osiris. But the place considered peculiarly suited to the latter emblem was the bow of the boat; and the custom is still retained in some countries to the present day. In India and China it is very general; and we even see the small barks that ply in the harbour of Malta bearing the eye on their bows, in the same manner as the boats of ancient Egypt. The Egyptians, however, appear to have confined it to boats used in the funeral ceremonies.

Streamers were occasionally attached to the pole of the rudder, and a standard was erected near the head of the vessel; the latter generally a sacred animal, a sphinx, or some emblem connected with religion or royalty, like those belonging to the infantry; and sometimes the top of the mast bore a shrine, or feathers, the symbol of the deity to whose protection they committed themselves during their voyage.

There is a striking resemblance, in some points, between the boats of the ancient Egyptians and those of India; and the form if the stern, the principle and construction of the rudder, the cabins, the square sail, the copper eye on each side of the head, the line of small squares at the side, like false windows, and the shape of the oars of boats used on the Ganges, forcibly call to mind those of the Nile, represented in the paintings of the Theban tombs.

The head and stern of the Egyptian pleasure-boats were usually ornamented with, or terminated in the shape of, a flower richly painted; in the boats of burden they were destitute of ornament, and simply rounded off; and I have met with two only in which there was any resemblance to a beak. But this was in Nile boats, and is a mode of construction common in those of the present day. Nor are the ships of war, represented at Medeenet Haboo, furnished with beaks.

At the head, a forecastle frequently projected above the deck, in which the man who held the fathoming pole sometimes stood, and which answered as a small lock-up box, like the hôn of modern Nile boats; and occasionally there was at the stern another of similar form, where the steersman sat. They were both very generally adopted in the war galleys; where they were found of great service: the archers profiting by these commanding positions to rake the enemy’s decks, as they bore down upon a hostile galley.


402.              Boat of the Nile; showing how the sail was fastened to the yards, and the nature of the rigging. Thebes.

There are no instances of boats with a rudder at both ends, said to have been used by some ancient nations; nor have any more than one mast and a single sail. Sometimes the rudder, instead of traversing in a groove, merely rested on the taffrel, and was suspended and secured by a rope, or band; but that imperfect method was confined to boats used in religious ceremonies on the Nile. The mallet and pegs for fastening the boat to the bank were kept in a particular place in the bows, as well as the landing plank, which were always in readiness, and under the surveillance of the man at the prow.

In some boats of burden, the cabin, or raised magazine, was very large, being used for carrying cattle, horses, and numerous stores; and it was sometimes made of open framework. As they often quitted these boats, to fetch other cattle, or to put them ashore, a boy was left on board to take charge of the stores; but this was not the only precaution: a dog was also kept tied up in the magazine; and its utility was often shown when the idle boy either wandered away during the absence of his masters, or fell asleep; for either of which delinquencies he was, if found out, liberally treated to the stick. Both the sleeping underling and the bastinado are common representations in the paintings.

Unlike the modern Egyptians, they paid great attention to the cleanliness of their boats, the cabins and decks being frequently washed and swept; and this the Theban artists thought of sufficient importance to be indicated in the sculptures.

Herodotus states that the mast was made of the acanthus (Acacia, or Mimosa, Nilotica); but the trunk and limbs of this tree are not sufficiently long or straight; and for that purpose they doubtless preferred the fir, with which they were well acquainted, great quantity of the wood being annually imported into Egypt from Syria. The planks, the ribs, and the keel were of the acacia, which, from its resisting the effect of water for a length of time, was found well adapted for this purpose, as is fully proved by modern experience. The foot of the mast was let into a strong beam, which crossed the whole breadth of the boat; it was supported by and lashed to a knee, rising to a considerable height before it; and the many stout stays, fastened at the head, stern, and sides, sufficiently secured it, and compensated for the great pressure of the heavy yards and sail it carried. The sheets, halliards, and standing rigging, were all fastened “within” the gunwale, as at the present day, and the monuments confirm the statement of Herodotus respecting this peculiarity of the Egyptian boats.

In ships of war, the yard was allowed to remain aloft after the sail had been reefed; but in the boats of the Nile, which had a yard at the top and bottom of the sail, as soon as it was furled, they lowered the upper yard, and in this position it remained until they again prepared for their departure. To loosen the sail from the lower yard must have been a tedious operation, if it was bound to it with the many lacings represented in some of the paintings; but in these cases it may have been folded up between the two yards, as soon as the upper one was lowered; the whole being lashed together by an outer rope.

It is uncertain whether they used blocks or pullies for raising and lowering the yards, or if the halliards merely passed through a smooth dead-sheave-hole near the top of the mast. The yards were evidently of very great size, and of two separate pieces, scarfed or joined together at the middle, sometimes supported by five or six lifts, and so firmly secured that men could stand or sit upon them, while engaged in arranging the sail; and from the upper yards were suspended several ropes, resembling the horses of our square-rigged ships, and perhaps intended for the same purpose when they furled the sail. They had also braces and sheets to the upper and lower yards, for trimming the sails; and each yard had its own halliards. Nor were the Egyptians ignorant of the pulley; and one has actually been found in Egypt, which is now in the museum of Leyden. It was apparently intended for drawing water from a well. The sides are of tamarisk wood, the roller of fir; and the rope, of leef or fibres of the date-tree, which belonged to it, was found at the same time. But it is uncertain whether they introduced the pulley into the rigging of their boats.

Many of the sails were painted with rich colours, or embroidered with fanciful devices, representing the emblem of the soul of the king, flowers, and various patterns; some were adorned with cheques, and others were merely striped, like those of the present day. This kind of cloth, of embroidered linen, appears to have been made in Egypt expressly for sails, and was bought by the Tyrians for that purpose; but its use was confined to the pleasure-boats of the grandees, or of the king himself, ordinary sails being white; and the ship in which Antony and Cleopatra went to the battle of Actium was distinguished from the rest of the fleet by its purple sails, which were the peculiar privilege of the admiral’s vessel. The sail of the large ship of Ptolemy Philopater, mentioned by Atticus, was, in like manner, of fine linen, ornamented with a purple border. Nor was this custom of late introduction; and the most highly decorated sails are those represented in the tomb of the third Remeses, at Thebes.

The devices, painted or embroidered upon them, depended on fancy, and the same monarch had ships with sails of different patterns; but the boats used in sacred festivals upon the Nile were probably decorated with appropriate symbols, according to the nature of the ceremony, or the deity in whose service they were engaged. The edges of the sails were furnished with a strong hem or border, also neatly coloured, serving to strengthen it, and prevent an injury, and a light rope was generally sewed round it for the same purpose.

Some of the Egyptian vessels were of very great size. Diodorus mentions one of cedar wood, dedicated by Sesostris to the god of Thebes, 280 cubits, or 420 feet, long; another built in much later times by Caligula in Egypt, to transport one of the obelisks to Rome, carried 120,000 pecks of lentils as ballast; and Ptolemy Philopater built one of forty banks of oars, which was 280 cubits (about 420 feet) long, and 48 (about 72 feet) in height, or 53 (80 feet) from the keel to the top of the poop, with a crew of 400 sailors, besides 4000 rowers, and near 3000 soldiers. Philopater had another he used on the Nile, upwards of 300 feet in length, and 30 cubits (45 feet) in breadth, and nearly 40 (60 feet) high; and Ptolemy Philadelphus had two of 30 banks, one of 20, four of 14, two of 12, fourteen of 11, thirty of 9, thirty-seven of 7, five of 6, seventeen of 5, and more than twice that number of 4 and 3 banks, with others of smaller size.

Of the origin of navigation no satisfactory conjecture can be offered, nor do we know to what nation to ascribe the merit of having conferred so important a benefit on mankind.

It is evident that the first steps were slow and gradual, and that the earliest attempts to construct vessels on the sea were rude and imperfect.

Ships of burden were originally mere rafts, made of the trunks of trees bound together, over which planks were fastened; which Pliny states to have been first used on the Red Sea; but he is wrong in limiting the era of ship-building to the age of Danaus, and in supposing that rafts alone were employed until that period. Rafts were adopted, even to carry goods, long after the invention of ships, as they still are for some purposes on rivers and other inland waters; but boats, made of hollow trees and various materials, covered with hides or pitch, were also of very early date, and to these may be ascribed the origin of planked vessels. Improvement followed improvement, and in proportion as civilisation advanced, the inventive genius of man was called forth to push on an invention, so essential to those communities, where the advantages of commerce were understood; and numerous causes contributed to the origin of navigation, and the construction of vessels for traversing the sea.

Whatever may have been the date of those expeditions which colonized various parts of Greece and other countries, the people to whom the art of navigation was most indebted, who excelled all others in nautical skill, and who carried the spirit of adventure far beyond any nation of antiquity, were the Phœnicians; and those bold navigators even visited the coast of Britain, in quest of tin.

The fleets of Sesostris, Amosis, and the Remeses, certainly date at a very remote age, and some Phœnician sailors, sent by Neco on a voyage of discovery, to ascertain the form of the African continent, actually doubled the Cape of Good Hope, about twenty one centuries before the time of Bartholomew Diaz, and Vasco de Gama; but it was not till the discovery of the compass that navigation became perfected, and the uncertain method of ascertaining the course by the stars gave place to the more accurate calculations of modern times.

After the fall of Tyre, and the building of Alexandria, Egypt became famous as a commercial country, and the emporium of the East; the riches of India, brought to Berenice, Myos-Hormos, and other ports on the Red Sea, passed through it, to be distributed over various parts of the Roman empire; and it continued to benefit by these advantages, until a new route was opened to India by the Portuguese, round the Cape of Good Hope.

It is difficult to explain how, at that early period, so great a value came to be attached to tin, that the Phœnicians should have thought it worth while to undertake a voyage of such a length, and attended with so much risk, in order to obtain it; even allowing that a high price was paid for this commodity in Egypt, and other countries, where, as at Sidon, the different branches of metallurgy were carried to great perfection. It was mixed with other metals, particularly copper, which was hardened by this alloy; it was employed, according to Homer, for the raised work on the exterior of shields, as in that of Achilles; for making greaves, and binding various parts of defensive armour; as well as for household and ornamental purposes; and it is remarkable, that the word kassiteros, used by the poet, is the same as the Arabic name kasdeer, by which the metal is still known in the East. It is also called kastira in Sanscrit.

We have no means of ascertaining the exact period when the Phœnicians first visited our coasts in search of tin; some have supposed about the year 400 or 450 before our era: but that this metal was employed many ages previously, is shown from the bronze vessels and implements discovered at Thebes, and other parts of Egypt. It cannot, however, be inferred that the mines of Britain were known at that remote period, since Spain and India may have furnished the Egyptians with tin; and the Phœnicians probably obtained it from these countries, long before they visited our distant coasts, and discovered the richness of their productive mines. It is still produced in small quantities in Gallicia and another part of northern Spain. Ezekiel says that the Tyrians received tin, as well as other metals, from Tarshish; and whether this was in India or not, there is sufficient evidence of the productions of that country having been known at the earliest times, as is proved by the gold of Ophir being mentioned in Job. For if Phœnician ships did not actually sail to India, its productions arrived partly by land through Arabia, partly through more distant marts, established midway from India by the merchants of those (as of later) days; and we have evidence of their having already found their way to Egypt, at the early period of Joseph’s arrival in that country, from the spices which the Ishmaelites were carrying to sell there. And the amethyst, hæmatite, lapis lazzuli, and other objects discovered at Thebes, of the time of the third Thothmes, and succeeding Pharaohs, argue that the intercourse was constantly kept up.

The first mention of tin, though not the earliest proof of its use, is in connexion with the spoils taken by the Israelites from the people of Midian, in the year 1452 B.C., where they are commanded by Moses to purify “the gold and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, by passing it through the fire; its combination with other metals is noticed by Isaiah, in the year 760 before our era, who alludes to it as an alloy mixed with a more valuable substance; Ezekiel shows that it was used for this purpose in connexion with silver; and bronze, a compound of tin and copper, is found in Egypt of the time of the 6th Dynasty, more than 2000 years B.C.

Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny, and other writers, mention certain islands discovered by the Phœnicians, which, from the quantity of tin they produced, obtained the name Cassiterides. Though their locality is not given correctly by them, it is evident they all allude to the cluster now known as the Scilly Isles; but these never produced tin, and the Phœnicians invented this story in order to conceal the fact of the mainland of Cornwall being the spot whence they obtained it. For, as Strabo says, the secret of their discovery was carefully concealed, and the Phœnician vessels continued to sail from Gades (Cadiz) in quest of this commodity, without its being known from whence they obtained it: though many endeavours were made by the Romans at a subsequent period to ascertain the secret, and to share the benefits of this lucrative trade.

So anxious, indeed, were the Phœnicians to retain their monopoly, that on one occasion, when a Roman vessel pursued a trader bound to the spot, the latter purposely steered his vessel on a shoal; preferring to suffer shipwreck, provided he involved his pursuers in the same fate, rather than disclose his country’s secret; for which he was rewarded from the public treasury.

Pliny mentions a report of “white lead,” or tin, being brought from certain islands of the Atlantic; yet he treats it as a “fable,” and proceeds to state that it was found in Lusitania and Gallicia, and was the same metal known to the Greeks in the days of Homer by the name “kassiteros.” Diodorus and Strabo, after noticing the tin of Spain and the Cassiterides, affirm that it was also brought to Massillia (Marseilles) from the coast of Britain; but this was probably after it had been long known to the Phœnicians, who still kept their secret; and it was doubtless through their means that the natives of Britain prevented other foreigners going direct to the mines, supplying them, as they did, with pigs of tin, carried to Vectis, or the Isle of Wight; the established depôt where the traders from the Continent were accustomed to purchase the metal. And this having become the established line of commerce probably led to the choice of the neighbouring port of Southampton, as the place whence the Pilgrims in later times crossed over to the Seine.

Spain, in early times, was to the Phœnicians what America, at a later period, was to the Spaniards; and no one can read the accounts of the immense wealth derived from the mines of that country, in the writings of Diodorus and other authors, without being struck by the relative position of the Phœnicians towards the ancient Spaniards, and the followers of Cortez or Pizarro towards the inhabitants of Mexico or Peru.

“The whole of Spain,” says Strabo, “abounds with mines.… and in no country are gold, silver, copper, and iron in such abundance or of such good quality: even the rivers and torrents bring down gold in their beds, and some is found in the sand;” and the fanciful assertion of Posidonius, regarding the richness of the country in precious metals, surpassed the phantoms created in the minds of the conquerors of America.

The Phœnicians purchased gold, silver, tin, and other metals from the inhabitants of Spain and the Cassiterides, by giving in exchange earthenware vessels, oil, salt, bronze manufactures, and other objects of little value, like the Spaniards on their arrival at Hispaniola; and such was the abundance of silver, that after loading their ships with full cargoes, they stripped the lead from their anchors, and substituted the same weight of silver.

Among those bronze implements were very probably the beautiful swords, daggers, and spear-heads found in this country, buried with the ancient Britons; which are of such excellent workmanship and form, that they could only be the work of a highly civilized and skilful people; and as they are neither of a Greek nor Roman type, it is difficult to attribute them to any other people than the Phœnicians.

A strong evidence of the skill of the Egyptians in working metals, and of the early advancement they made in this art, is derived from their success in the management of different alloys; which, as M. Goguet observes, is further argued from the casting of the golden calf, and still more from Moses being able to burn the metal and reduce it to powder; a secret which he could only have learnt in Egypt. It is said in Exodus, that “Moses took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it;” an operation which, according to the French savant, “is known by all who work in metals to be very difficult.”

“Commentators’ heads,” he adds, “have been much perplexed to explain how Moses burnt and reduced the gold to powder. Many have offered vain and improbable conjectures, but an experienced chemist has removed every difficulty upon the subject, and has suggested this simple process. In the place of tartaric acid, which we employ, the Hebrew legislator used natron, which is common in the East. What follows, respecting his making the Israelites drink this powder, proves that he was perfectly acquainted with the whole effect of the operation. He wished to increase the punishment of their disobedience, and nothing could have been more suitable; for gold reduced and made into a draught, in the manner I have mentioned, has a most nauseous taste.”


403.              Goldsmiths. Beni Hassan.

Figs. 1, 2. Making jewellery. 3. Blowing the fire for melting the gold. 4. Weighing the gold. 5. Clerk or scribe. 6, 7, 8, 9. Washing gold.

10. Superintendent. The remaining part relates to the preparation of the metal before it was worked.

The use of gold for jewellery and various articles of luxury dates from the most remote ages. Pharaoh having “arrayed” Joseph “in vestures of fine linen, put a gold chain about his neck;” and the jewels of silver and gold borrowed from the Egyptians by the Israelites at the time of their leaving Egypt (out of which the golden calf was afterwards made), suffice to prove the great quantity of precious metals wrought at that time into female ornaments. It is not from the Scriptures alone that the skill of the Egyptian goldsmiths may be inferred; the sculptures of Thebes and Beni Hassan afford their additional testimony and the numerous gold and silver vases, inlaid work, and jewellery, represented in common use, show the great advancement they had made in this branch of art.


404.              Goldsmiths. Thebes.

f g are articles of jewellery. The hieroglyphics read “goldsmith” or “worker in gold.”

But gold was known in Egypt, and made into ornaments, long before; and the same mode of washing and working it is figured on the monuments of the 4th Dynasty.

The engraving of gold, the mode of casting it, and inlaying it, with stones, were evidently known at the same time; they are, mentioned in the Bible, and numerous specimens of this kind of work have been found in Egypt.

The origin of the sign signifying gold has been happily explained by Champollion as the bowl in which the metal was washed, the cloth through which it was strained, and the dropping of the water, united into one character, at once indicative of the process and the metal.

Much cannot, of course, be expected from the objects found in the excavated tombs, to illustrate the means employed in smelting the ore, or to disclose any of the secrets they possessed in metallurgy; and little is given in the paintings beyond the use of the blow-pipe, the forceps, and the mode of concentrating heat by raising cheeks of metal round three sides of the fire in which the crucibles were placed. Of the latter, indeed, there is no indication in these subjects, unless it be in a preceding woodcut (403, fig. c.); but their use is readily suggested, and some which have been found in Egypt are preserved in the museum of Berlin. They are nearly five inches in diameter at the mouth, and about the same in depth, and present the ordinary form and appearance of those used at the present day.


405.              Blowpipe, and small fireplace with cheeks to confine and reflect the heat. Thebes.

At Beni Hassan, the process of washing the ore, smelting or fusing the metal with the help of the blow-pipe, and fashioning it for ornamental purposes, weighing it, and taking an account of the quantity so made up, and other occupations of the goldsmith, are represented; but, as might be supposed, these subjects merely suffice, as they were intended, to give a general indication of the goldsmith’s trade, without attempting to describe the means employed.

From the mention of earrings and bracelets, and jewels of silver and gold, in the days of Abraham, it is evident that in Asia, as well as in Egypt, the art of metallurgy was known at a very remote period; and workmen of the same countries are noticed by Homer as excelling in the manufacture of arms, rich vases, and other objects inlaid or ornamented with metals. His account of the shield of Achilles proves the art of working the various substances of which it was made, copper, tin, gold, and silver, to have been well understood at that time; and the skill required to represent the infinity of subjects he mentions, was such as no ordinary artisan could possess.

The ornaments in gold found in Egypt consist of rings, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, earrings, and numerous trinkets belonging to the toilet, many of which are of the time of Osirtasen I. and Thothmes III., about 3930, and 3290 years ago. Gold and silver vases, statues, and other objects of gold and silver, of silver inlaid with gold, and of bronze inlaid with the precious metals, were also common at the same time; and besides those manufactured in the country from the produce of their own mines, the Egyptians exacted an annual tribute from the conquered provinces of Asia and Africa, in gold and silver, and in vases made of those materials.


406.              Golden baskets, represented in the tomb of King Remeses III. Thebes.

There was great elegance in the form of many of the oldest Egyptian vases, especially those of gold and silver. Much taste was also displayed in other objects as well as in the devices which ornamented them, among which may be mentioned the golden baskets in the tomb of Remeses III.

The gold mines of Egypt or of Ethiopia, though mentioned by Agatharcides and later writers, and worked even by the Arab Caliphs, long remained unknown, and their position has only been ascertained a few years since, by M. Linant and Mr. Bonomi. They lie in the Bisháree desert,—the land of Bigah (or of the “Bugaitæ” mentioned in the inscription at Axum)—about seventeen or eighteen days’ journey to the south-eastward from Derow; which is situated on the Nile, a little above Kom Ombo, the ancient Ombos.

Those two travellers met with some Cufic funereal inscriptions there, which from their dates show that the mines were worked in the years 339 A. H. (951 A. D.), and 378 A. H. (989 A. D.); the former being in the fifth year of the Caliph Mostukfee Billah, a short time before the arrival of the Fatemites in Egypt, the latter in the fourteenth of El Azeéz, the second of the Fatemite dynasty.

They continued to be worked till a much later period, and were afterwards abandoned, the value of the gold barely covering the expenses; nor did Mohammed Ali, who sent to examine them and obtain specimens of the ore, find it worth while to re-open them.

The matrix is quartz: and so diligent a search did the Egyptians establish, throughout the whole of the deserts east of the Nile, for this precious metal, that I never remember to have seen a vein of quartz in any of the primitive ranges there, which had not been carefully examined by their miners; certain portions having been invariably picked out from the fissures in which it lay, and broken into small fragments. The same was done in later times by the Romans; and evidences of their searching for gold in quartz veins are even found in some parts of Britain.

The gold mines are said by Aboolfeda to be situated at El Allaga (or Ollagee); but Eshuranib (or Eshuanib), the principal place, is about three days’ journey beyond Wadee Allaga according to Mr. Bonomi, to whom I am indebted for the following account of the mines. “The direction of the excavations depends on that of the strata in which the ore is found; and the position of the various shafts differs accordingly. As to the manner of extracting the metal, some notion may be given by a description of the ruins at Eshuranib, the largest station, where sufficient remains to explain the process they adopted. The principal excavation, according to M. Linant’s measurement, is about 180 feet deep: it is a narrow oblique chasm, reaching a considerable way down the rock. In the valley near the most accessible part of the excavation, are several huts, built of the unhewn fragments of the surrounding hills, their walls not more than breast high, perhaps the houses of the excavators or the guardians of the mine; and separated from them by the ravine or course of the torrent is a group of houses, about three hundred in number, laid out very regularly in straight lines. In those nearest the mines lived the workmen who were employed to break the quartz into small fragments, the size of a bean, from whose hands the pounded stone passed to the persons who ground it in hand-mills, similar to those now used for corn in the valley of the Nile, made of a granitic stone; one of which is to be found in almost every house at these mines, either entire or broken.

“The quartz thus reduced to powder was washed on inclined tables, furnished with two cisterns, all built of fragments of stone collected there; and near these inclined planes are generally found little white mounds, the residue of the operation. Besides the numerous remains of houses in this station, are two large buildings, with towers at the angles, built of the hard blackish granitic, yet luminous, rock, that prevails in the district. The valley has many trees, and in a high part of the torrent bed is a sort of island, or isolated bank, on which we found many tombstones, some written in the ancient Cufic character, very similar to those at A´Souán.”

Mr. Bonomi’s account agrees very well with those given by Agatharcides and Diodorus; who both mention the great labour of extracting the gold, and separating it from the pounded stone by frequent washings; a process apparently represented in the tombs of the early time of the Osirtasens; and the descriptions of the old “diggings” have acquired additional interest from those of modern days.

But in Australia and California they are carried on under more auspicious circumstances than those of old; where the workers in the mines were principally captives taken in war, and men condemned to hard labour for crimes, or in consequence of offences against the government. They were bound in fetters, and obliged to work night and day; every chance of escape being carefully obviated by the watchfulness of the guards, who, in order that persuasion might not be used to induce them to relax in their duty, or feelings of compassion be excited for the sufferings of their fellow-countrymen, were foreign soldiers, ignorant of the Egyptian language.

Such was the system in the time of Diodorus; but it is uncertain whether it was introduced under the Ptolemies, or had already existed under the later Pharaohs. “The soil,” says the historian, “naturally black, is traversed with veins of marble of excessive whiteness, surpassing in brilliancy the most shining substances; out of which the overseers cause the gold to be dug, by the labour of a vast multitude of people; for the kings of Egypt condemn to the mines notorious criminals, prisoners of war, persons convicted by false accusations, or the victims of resentment. And not only the individuals themselves, but sometimes even their whole families are doomed to this labour; with the view of punishing the guilty, and profiting by their toil.

“The vast numbers employed in these mines are bound in fetters, and compelled to work day and night without intermission, and without the least hope of escape; for they set over them barbarian soldiers, who speak a foreign language, so that there is no possibility of conciliating them by persuasion, or the kind feelings which result from familiar converse.

“When the earth containing the gold is hard, they soften it by the application of fire, and when it has been reduced to such a state that it yields to moderate labour, several thousands (myriads) of these unfortunate people break it up with iron picks. Over the whole work presides an engineer who view and selects the stone, and points it out to the labourers. The strongest of them, provided with iron chisels, cleave the marble-shining rock by mere force, without any attempt at skill; and in excavating the shaft below ground they follow the direction of the shining stratum, without keeping to a straight line.

“In order to see in these dark windings, they fasten lamps to their foreheads, having their bodies painted, sometimes of one and sometimes of another colour, according to the nature of the rock; and as they cut the stone it falls in masses on the floor, the overseers urging them to the work with commands and blows. They are followed by little boys, who take away the fragments as they fall and carry them out into the open air. Those who are above thirty years of age are employed to pound pieces of the stone, of certain dimensions, with iron pestles in stone mortars, until reduced to the size of a lentil. The whole is then transferred to women and old men, who put it into mills arranged in a long row, two or three persons being employed at the same mill, and it is ground until reduced to a fine powder.

“No attention is paid to their persons; they have not even a piece of rag to cover themselves; and so wretched is their condition that every one who witnesses it deplores the excessive misery they endure. No rest, no intermission from toil, are given either to the sick or maimed: neither the weakness of age nor women’s infirmities are regarded; all are driven to their work with the lash, till, at last, overcome with the intolerable weight of their afflictions, they die in the midst of their toil. So that these unhappy creatures always expect worse to come than what they endure at the present, and long for death as far preferable to life.

“At length the masters take the stone thus ground to powder, and carry it away to undergo the final process. They spread it upon a broad table a little inclined; and, pouring water upon it, rub the pulverised stone until all the earthy matter is separated, which, flowing away with the water, leaves the heavier particles behind on the board. This operation is often repeated, the stone being rubbed lightly with the hand: they then draw up the useless and earthy substance with fine sponges, gently applied, until the gold comes out quite pure. Other workmen then take it away by weight and measure, and putting it with a fixed proportion of lead, salt, a little tin, and barley bran, into earthen crucibles well closed with clay, leave it in a furnace for five successive days and nights; after which it is suffered to cool. The crucibles are then opened, and nothing is found in them but the pure gold, a little diminished in quantity.

“Such is the method of extracting the gold on the confines of Egypt, the result of so many and such great toils. Nature, indeed, teaches that as gold is obtained with immense labour, so it is kept with difficulty, creating great anxiety, and attended in its use both with pleasure and grief.”

In the early stages of society when gold first began to be used, idols, ornaments, or other objects, were made of the metal in its pure state, till being found too soft, and too easily worn away, an alloy was added to harden it, at the same time that it increased the bulk of the valuable material. As men advanced in experience, they found that the great ductility of gold enabled them to cover substances of all kinds with thin plates of the metal, giving all the effect of the richness and brilliancy they admired in solid gold ornaments; and the gilding of bronze, stone, silver, and wood, was speedily adopted.

The leaves so used were at first thick, but skill, resulting from experience, soon showed to what a degree of fineness they could be reduced; and we find that in Egypt substances of various kinds were overlaid with fine gold leaf at a very remote period, even in the time of the first Osirtasen. Some things still continued to be covered with thick leaf, but this was from choice, and not in consequence of any want of skill in the workmen; and in the early age of Thothmes III. they were already acquainted with the various methods of overlaying with gold leaf, gilding, inlaying, and beating gold into other metals, previously tooled with devices to receive it.

That the practice of applying it in leaf was common when the Israelites were in the country is evident from the direct mention of it in the Bible, the ark of shittim wood made by Moses being overlaid with pure gold; and the casting of the metal is noticed on the same occasion; nor can we doubt that the art was derived by the Jews from Egypt, or that the Egyptians had long before been acquainted with all those secrets of metallurgy, in which the specimens that remain prove them to have so eminently excelled.

The method devised by the Egyptians for beating out the leaf is unknown to us, but from the extreme fineness of some of that covering wooden and other ornaments found at Thebes, we may conclude it was done nearly in the same way as formerly in Europe, between parchment; and perhaps some membrane taken from the intestines of animals was also employed by them.

In Europe the skin of an unborn calf was at first substituted for the parchment previously used, but in the beginning of the 17th century, the German gold-beaters having obtained a fine pellicle from the entrails of cattle, found that they could beat gold much thinner than before, and this still continues to be used, and is known to us under the name of gold-beaters’ skin. “About the year 1621,” says Beckmann, “Merunne excited general astonishment, when he showed that the Parisian gold-beaters could beat an ounce of gold into sixteen hundred leaves, which together covered a surface of one hundred and five square feet. But in 1711, when the pellicles discovered by the Germans came to be used in Paris, Réaumur found that an ounce of gold in the form of a cube, five and a quarter lines at most in length, breadth, and thickness, and which covered only a surface of about 27 square lines, could be so extended by the gold-beaters as to cover a surface of more than 1466½ square feet. This extension, therefore, is nearly one half more than was possible about a century before.”

Many gilt bronze vases, implements of various kinds, trinkets, statues, toys, and other objects, in metal and wood, have been discovered in the tombs of Thebes: the faces of mummies are frequently found overlaid with thick gold-leaf; the painted cloth, the wooden coffin, were also profusely ornamented in this manner, and sometimes the whole body itself of the deceased, previous to its being enveloped in the bandages. Not only were small objects appertaining to the service of the gods, and connected with religion, or articles of luxury and show, in the temples, tombs, or private houses, so decorated; the sculptures on the lofty walls of an adytum, the ornaments of a colossus, the doorways of a temple, and parts of numerous large monuments were likewise covered with gilding, of which the wooden heifer which served as a sepulchre to the body of king Mycerinus’s daughter, some of the mouldings in the temple of Kalabshi in Nubia, the statue of Minerva sent to Cyrene by Amasis, and portions of the Sphinx at the Pyramids may be cited as instances.

Gold is supposed to have been used for money some time before silver. In Egypt it was evidently known before silver, this being called “white gold;” and it was there the representative of money; while in Hebrew, kussuf, “silver,” signified “money,” like “argent” in French. In neither case was the money coined in early times. Gold was perhaps first stamped by the Lydians; but the oldest known Greek coins are the silver ones of Ægina, with a tortoise on one side.

Much gold was used for ornamental purposes. Its richness, durability, and freedom from tarnish, led the ancients to employ it very generally, and to a greater extent than in modern times, when South America has given us the abundance, and the name, of “plate.” Silver was chiefly confined to money; and the demand for gold in houses (Plin. xxxiii. 17), and in jewellery, left silver free for the currency, and for a few other purposes. But though gold was preferred, it is still singular that so few pieces of silver plate seem to have been made by the Greeks and Romans.

The Egyptian sculptures represent silver as well as gold vases and ornaments, in the time of the third Thothmes, and silver rings and trinkets have been found of the same epoch; but gold was the favourite metal in Egypt, as afterwards in Greece and Rome and the rich frequently had ornamental works, statues, and furniture of solid gold. Those who could not afford them were satisfied to have bronze overlaid with gold, at first with a thick, in after times with a thin coating, until in time gold-beating brought the external appearance of gold within the reach of less wealthy people; and gold leaf in modern days covers the wooden ornaments of the humblest house. Now that gold is in greater abundance, we may look to its coming again into more general use, instead of silver; which sinks into the appearance of pewter by the side of that rich metal; and to its taking the place of some of our paltry imitations.

If the use of gold preceded that of silver, the latter was not long in following it; and the earliest authority, the Bible, mentions both at a remote age. Abraham was said to have been “very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold;” Abimelech gave him a thousand pieces of the former; and the use of silver as money is distinctly pointed out in the purchase of the field of Ephron, with its cave, which Abraham bought for “four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.” On this occasion, as usual, the price paid was settled by weight, which was the origin and meaning of the name shekel; and the custom of weighing money was retained among the Egyptians, Hebrews, and other Eastern people, till a late period. Indeed, until a government stamp, or some fixed value, was given to money, this could be the only method of ascertaining the price paid, and of giving satisfaction to both parties. Thus Joseph’s brethren, when they discovered the money returned into their sacks, brought it back to Egypt, observing that it was “in full weight;” and the paintings of Thebes frequently represent persons in the act of weighing gold, on the purchase of articles in the market.


407.              Kabbáneh (Qabbáneh), or public weighers, and notaries. Thebes.

Egyptian money was in rings of gold and silver, a kind of currency that continues to this day in Sennaar and the neighbouring countries; but it is uncertain whether any of them had a government stamp to denote their purity or their value; and though so commonly represented, none have yet been found in the ruins or tombs of Thebes. They remind us of the “ring (nuzm) of gold” in Job (42:11), given him with “apiece of money” by his friends.


408.              Rings of gold and silver. Thebes.

Gold when brought as tribute was often in bags, which were deposited in the royal treasury. These doubtless contained gold dust, which is mentioned by Job (28:6) as a well known form of that metal; and this is confirmed by “pure gold” being written over them. Though sealed, and warranted to contain a certain quantity, they were subjected to the usual ordeal of the scales by the cautious Egyptians. Money was sometimes kept ready weighed in known quantities for certain occasions, which, when intended as a present, or when the honesty of the person was beyond suspicion, did not require to be weighed; as when Naaman gave “two talents of silver in two bags” to Gehazi (2 Kings 5:23; see Tobit 9:5). The Egyptians had also unstamped copper money, called in the papyri “pieces of brass;” which, like the gold and silver, continued to be taken by weight even in the time of the Ptolemies; and it was only by degrees that the Greek coinage did away with the old imperfect system of weighing the price paid for every commodity.

But these princes were not the first who introduced coined money into Egypt: it had been current there during the Persian occupation of the country; and Aryandes, who was governor of Egypt, under Cambyses and Darius, struck silver coins, in imitation of the gold Darics of his sovereign, for which act of presumption he was condemned to death.

They are supposed to be those with an owl, and the Egyptian sceptres of Osiris, the crook and flail, on the obverse; and an archer on a hippocampus, with a dolphin, on the reverse.

The art of stamping money in Asia began in the dominions of Lydia. Herodotus says the Lydians were “the first people who coined gold and silver for their use;” and if Ægina also claims the earliest coinage, this does not contradict Herodotus, as it was only the earliest in relation to Greece. The oldest coins, that have been found, are the staters of Lydia, which date even a little before the very ancient ones of Cyzicus. They are not of pure gold, but of Electrum, or three parts gold and one of silver: probably owing to the two metals having been found together, and first stamped in that state. They were mere lumps, or dumps, of a certain weight; often cracked at the edge from being suddenly flattened by the blow. They were impressed with a lion’s head, or other emblem, on one side only. Similarly rude were the old Æginetan coins, with a tortoise on one side, and on the other the mark of the block on which the lump of metal was fixed while struck. These last were all of silver, none of gold; and the oldest coins of real gold were those of Darius.

Phidon, king of Argos, is said to have invented weights and measures (that is in Greece), and to have established the silver coinage of Ægina B.C. 895: and though Pausanias thinks gold and silver money were unknown in the age of Polydorus, king of Sparta (who died B.C. 724), the authority of the Parian Chronicle, and of Ælian, favour the earlier claims of Ægina. The coins of Syracuse and Magna Græcia date from 700 B.C.; having, like all others before 500 B.C., only a figure on one side; and the first silver coins of Athens were struck in 512 B.C. The gold Darics had only a figure on the obverse, representing an archer. They were coined about 500 B.C., and had not yet the round shape of later pieces, nor of the silver Darics, being 5–8ths of an inch long by 7–16ths. They were worth about 1l. 1s. 10d. each. These and other early coins therefore do not borrow their form from ring money; which may perhaps be traced in those of China.

Habit would naturally retain an original type for a long time; and sometimes even in Greece the archaic character of a coin was continued long after art had improved. Thus the old head of Minerva was repeated on the late Athenian drachm and tetradrachm, because strangers were accustomed to it in commerce, and the Athenians were satisfied to use the well-known Corinthian didrachm for the same reason; as all people on the Mediterranean still welcome the pillar dollar of Spain.

The tradition of pecunia being called from pecus, and of the ox or sheep having been at first a substitute for money, as in Greece and Rome, accords with a custom still common among some people, of making them the standard of valuation; in Darfoor and Kordofan a piece of cotton cloth is reckoned equal to a sheep; and in Job (42:11), the name Kesíteh (or “lamb”) is employed to signify a “piece of money.” Homer also reckons the value of certain things as equal to an ox; and in Solon’s time a sheep was equivalent “to a bushel and a half of corn.”

If stamped money was not used by the ancient Egyptians, we have evidence of weights and measures having been invented by them long before the Greeks existed as a nation: and it is probable that they were known even in Greece previous to the time of Phidon. (See below, p. 239, on the use of the precious metals.)

One kind of balance used for weighing gold differed slightly from those of ordinary construction, and was probably more delicately formed. It was made, as usual, with an upright pole, rising from a broad base or stand, and a cross beam turning on a pin at its summit; but instead of strings suspending the scales, was an arm on either side, terminating in a’ hook, to which the gold was attached in small bags.

Large scales were generally a flat wooden board, with four ropes attached to a ring at the extremity of the beam; and those of smaller size were of bronze, one and a half inch in diameter, pierced near the edge in three planes, for the strings.

The principle of the common balance was simple and ingenious; the beam passed through a ring suspended from a horizontal rod, immediately above and parallel to it, and when equally balanced, the ring, which was large enough to allow the beam to play freely, showed when the scales were equally poised, and had the additional effect of preventing the beam tilting, when the goods were taken out of one, and the weights suffered to remain in the other scale. To the lower part of the ring a small plummet was fixed, and this being touched by the hand, and found to hang freely, indicated, without the necessity of looking at the beam, that the weight was just. The figure of a baboon was sometimes placed upon the top, as the emblem of the god Thoth, the regulator of measures, of time, and of writing, in his character of the moon; but there is no appearance of the goddess of Justice being connected with the balance, except in the judgment scenes of the dead.

The pair of scales was the ordinary and, apparently, only kind of balance used by the Egyptians; no instance of the steel-yard being met with in the paintings of Thebes, or of Beni Hassan: and the introduction of the latter is confined to a Roman era.

The Egyptians had another kind of balance, in which the equalisation of the opposite weights was ascertained by the plummet; and this last, whose invention has been ascribed by Pliny to Dædalus, is shown to have been known and applied in Egypt at least as early as the time of the Osirtasens.

For ordinary purposes copper was most commonly used; arms, vases, statues, instruments, and implements of every kind, articles of furniture, and numerous other objects, were made of this metal hardened by an alloy of tin, and even chisels for cutting stone, as well as carpenters’ tools, and knives, were of bronze. It is generally allowed that copper or bronze was known long, before iron, and though Tubal-Cain is said to have been “the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron” no direct mention is made of iron arms or tools till after the Exodus.

According, to the Arundelian marbles, iron was known one hundred and eighty-eight years before the Trojan war, about 1370 years B.C., but Hesiod, Plutarch, and others limit its discovery to a much later period, after the capture of Troy. Homer, however distinctly mentions its use: and that there is little reason to doubt the sideros of the poet being iron, is shown by the simile, derived from the quenching of iron in water, which he applies to the hissing noise produced on piercing the eye of Polyphemus with the pointed stake, thus rendered by Pope:

“And as when armourers temper in the ford

The keen-edg’d poleaxe, or the shining sword,

The red hot metal hisses in the lake,

Thus in his eyeball hiss’d the plunging stake.”

His “black kyanus” is also thought to be steel, as well as the adamas of Hesiod, who mentions the iron of the Idæi Dactyli in Crete; and the skill of the Chalybes in its manufacture dates from a very remote age. Among the earliest authorities for the use of iron, may be cited the bedstead of Og the king of Bashan, who is said to have lived about the year 1450 before our era; and Thrasyllus agrees with the Arundelian marbles in supposing iron to have been known before the Trojan war, or indeed one hundred and fourteen years previous to the foundation of Troy, 1537 before our era. On the other hand it has been argued, that offerings on iron in the temples of Greece distinctly showed the value attached to that metal, as well as its limited use for ordinary purposes, and rings of iron were worn by the ancients, some of which have been found in the tombs of Egypt. But these last are of very late date, long after iron was commonly used, and I possess one of them, engraved with the figure of Harpocrates, which is of a Ptolemaic, or rather of a Roman, era, and which only claims some degree of interest, from its bearing, a device noticed by Pliny as becoming fashionable at Rome in his time.

That iron, as early as the days of Lycurgus, was held in little estimation, is shown by that legislator forbidding the introduction of gold and silver in his republic, and restricting the Spartans to the use of iron; and some notion may be formed of its value at that time by the assertion of Plutarch, that it required a cart drawn by two oxen to carry the small sum of ten minæ.

The Jews appear to have been acquainted with two kinds of iron, previous to the Babylonish captivity; the barzel, which was in common use, and the northern iron, as well as steel: even as early as the days of Job iron was known; and Moses mentions an iron furnace.

One of the arguments against the early use of iron is the difficulty of smelting the ore, and of reducing it to a malleable state; and the various processes required to discover all its most useful properties render it less likely to be employed than a more ductile metal. Gold, silver, and copper were easily fused, and a single process sufficed to make them available for every purpose; the principal art required for fabricating implements of copper depending on the proper proportions and qualities of alloy introduced.

In the infancy of the arts and sciences, the difficulty of working iron might long withhold the secret of its superiority over copper and bronze; but it cannot reasonably be supposed that a nation so advanced, and so eminently skilled in the art of working metals as the Egyptians and Sidonians, should have remained ignorant of its use, even if we had no evidence of its having been known to the Greeks and other people; and the constant employment of bronze arms and implements is not a sufficient argument against their knowledge of iron, since we find the Greeks and Romans made the same things of bronze long after the period when iron was universally known.

Another argument, to show that bronze was used in Greece before iron, is derived from the word χαλκευς, “coppersmith” having in Greek the signification of “smith,” whether applied to a worker of copper or iron. In Latin, on the contrary, ferrum, “an iron,” is the word frequently applied to a sword; and some have hence argued the use of iron for those weapons, at the earliest period, among the Romans; which is confirmed by the treaty imposed upon them by Porsena, binding them not to use iron, except for agricultural implements. But long after iron was used by them, the Romans and Etruscans continued to make swords, daggers, spear-heads, and other offensive weapons of bronze, as well as their defensive armour; and the discovery of arms and tools of bronze ceases to argue an ignorance of iron.

To conclude, from the want of iron instruments, or arms, bearing the names of early monarchs of a Pharaonic age, that bronze was alone used, is neither just nor satisfactory; since the decomposition of that metal, especially when buried for ages in the nitrous soil of Egypt, is so speedy as to preclude the possibility of its preservation. Until we know in what manner the Egyptians employed bronze tools for cutting stone, the discovery of them affords no additional light, nor even argument; since the Greeks and Romans continued to make bronze instruments of various kinds so long after iron was known to them; and Herodotus mentions the iron tools used by the builders of the Pyramids.

Iron and copper mines are found in the Egyptian desert, which were worked in old times; and the monuments of Thebes, and even the tombs about Memphis, dating more than 4000 years ago, represent butchers sharpening their knives on a round bar of metal attached to their apron, which from its blue colour can only be steel; and the distinction between the bronze and iron weapons in the tomb of Remeses III., one painted red, the other blue, leaves no doubt of both having been used (as in Rome) at the same periods. In Ethiopia iron was much more abundant than in Egypt, and Herodotus states that copper was a rare metal there; though we may doubt his assertion of prisoners in that country having been bound with fetters of gold.

The speedy decomposition of iron would be sufficient to prevent our finding implements of that metal of an early period, and the greater opportunities of obtaining copper ore, added to the facility of working it, might be a reason for preferring the latter whenever it answered the purpose instead of iron. Bronze tools might also be made available for sculpturing and engraving stone; though there is great difficulty in accounting for their use in mines and quarries, where the stone was frequently hewn with them; as Agatharcides informs us in his account of the gold mines, and as was evidently done in cutting the limestone rock of the tombs at Thebes; a bronze chisel having been found amidst the chippings of the stone, where it had been accidentally left by the workmen.

The hieroglyphics on obelisks and other granitic monuments are sculptured with a minuteness and finish which is surprising, even if they had used steel as highly tempered as our own.

Some are cut to the depth of more than two inches, the edges and all the most minute parts of the intaglio presenting the same sharpness and accuracy; and I have seen the figure of a king in high relief, reposing on the lid of a granite coffin, which was raised to the height of nine inches above the level of the surface. What can be said, if we deny to men who executed such works as these the aid of steel, and confine them to bronze implements? Then, indeed, we exalt their skill in metallurgy far beyond our own, and indirectly confess that they had devised a method of sculpturing stone of which we are ignorant. In vain should we attempt to render copper, by the addition of certain alloys, sufficiently hard to sculpture granite, basalt, and stones of similar quality. No one who has tried to perforate or cut a block of Egyptian granite will scruple to acknowledge that our best steel tools are turned in a very short time, and require to be re-tempered: and the labour experienced by the French engineers, who removed the obelisk of Luxor from Thebes, in cutting a space less than two feet deep, along the face of its partially decomposed pedestal, suffices to show that, even with our excellent modern implements, we find considerable difficulty in doing what to the Egyptians would have been one of the least arduous tasks. The use of tools on granite is thus described by Sir R. Westmacott:—

“Granite, as most hard materials of that nature, being generally worked with a pick of various strength, until reduced to a surface, the duration of the tool depends on its form; the more obtuse the longer it will work, remaining longer cold. In umping (as it is termed) holes for the admission of bolts into fractured parts of granite, the tools are usually of strong tempered iron, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter, which resist the heat sometimes half an hour, seldom longer. One man holds, and turns, or moves the tool, whilst the other strikes it with a heavy hammer, the hole being supplied with water. Tools of less diameter are formed of steel, but these will not resist more than 300 strokes, when the points fly, and require to be fresh battered. Sculptors generally use tools formed of blistered steel, or of cast steel, the finer sort highly tempered by immersing them, when heated to a proper degree, into cold water.”

Some have imagined that the granite, being somewhat softer at the time it is taken from the quarry, was more easily sculptured when the Egyptians put up the obelisks than at present, and thus satisfy themselves that the labour was considerably less; but this argument is entirely overthrown by the fact of other sculptures having been frequently added, one hundred, and one hundred and fifty, years after the erection of a monument, as in the lateral lines of hieroglyphics on obelisks; which are sometimes found more deeply cut and more beautifully executed than those previously sculptured. Others have suggested that the stone being stunned, as it is termed, in those places where it was to be sculptured, yielded more readily to the blow of the chisel; but neither is this sufficient to produce the effect proposed, nor an advantage exclusively enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians.

Thus, then, the facility they possessed of sculpturing granite is neither attributable to any process for bruising the crystals, nor to its softer state on coming from the quarry, and we have still to discover the means they employed with such wonderful success.

The hieroglyphics on the obelisks are rather engraved than sculptured; and, judging from the minute manner in which they are executed, we may suppose they adopted the same process as engravers, and even in some instances employed the wheel and drill. That they were acquainted with the use of emery powder is not at all improbable, since, being found in the islands of the Archipelago, it was within their reach; and if this be admitted, we can account for the admirable finish and sharpness of the hieroglyphics on granitic and basaltic monuments, and explain the reason of their preferring tools of bronze to those of harder and more compact steel: for it is evident the powder enters more readily into the former, and its action upon the stone is increased in proportion to the quantity retained by the point of the chisel; whence we now prefer tools of soft iron to hard steel for the same purpose.

As far as the sculpture or engraving of hieroglyphics, this explanation might suffice for their preference of bronze implements; but when we find tools used in quarries made of the same metal, we are unable to account for it, and readily express our surprise how they could render a bronze chisel capable of hewing stone. We know of no means of tempering copper, under any form or united with any alloys, for such a purpose. The addition of tin or other metals to harden it, if exceeding certain proportions, renders it too brittle for use; and that such is not the case is evident from the above-mentioned chisel I found at Thebes, which contains very little alloy, 100 parts being

              94              • 0 copper,

              5              • 9 tin,

              0              • 1 iron,


              100              • 0;

and its point is instantly turned by striking it against the very stone it was once used to cut. And yet when found the summit was turned over by the blows it had received from the mallet, while the point was intact, as if it had recently left the hands of the smith who made it.

It is difficult to say how it could have been used for cutting stone, and unless some medium was employed, as a sheath of steel or other protection to its point, the Egyptians must have possessed certain secrets in hardening or tempering copper, with which we are totally unacquainted. The size of this chisel is 9¼ inches in length; its diameter at the summit is 1 inch, and the point is 7–10ths of an inch in its greatest width: its weight 1 lb. 12 oz. and in general form it resembles those now used by the masons of modern Europe.

The skill of the Egyptians in compounding metals is abundantly proved by the vases, mirrors, arms, and implements of bronze, discovered at Thebes, and other parts of Egypt; and the numerous methods they adopted for varying the composition of bronze, by a judicious admixture of alloys, are shown in the many qualities of the metal. They had even the secret of giving to bronze, or brass, blades a certain degree of elasticity; as in the dagger of the Berlin Museum; which probably depended on the mode of hammering the metal, and the just proportions of peculiar alloys. (See vol. i. p. 148.)

Another remarkable feature in their bronze is the resistance it offers to the effect of the atmosphere; some continuing smooth and bright, though buried for ages, and since exposed to the damp of European climates. They had also the secret of covering the surface with a rich patina of dark or light green, or other colour, by applying acids to it; as was done by the Greeks and Romans, and as we do to the iron guns on board our men-of-war.

The colour of their bronze depended on the alloys. It generally had from twelve to twenty parts tin to eighty or eighty-five copper. When half tin it had a whitish appearance; and some Roman bronze was of a “liver colour,” probably like our urns. Lackered brass has even been found, of Roman time. Yellow brass was a compound of zinc and copper; and a white and finer kind had a mixture of silver, which was used for mirrors, and is one quality of the so-called “Corinthian brass.” Another, which was yellow, and very like gold in appearance, was partly made of that metal with copper; and its beauty has been proved by the discovery of a cup, still capable of receiving some portion of its original polish.

In Egypt, as in Greece, bronze ornaments were often gilt, but statues were preferred plain, or inlaid, or damaskened with gold or silver. Those of the Navarchai were, therefore, said by Plutarch to be blue from exposure to the air; and Pliny thinks the large colossus of Nero improved by the gilding having been scraped off, in spite of the scratches caused by the operation.

It is not known at what period they began to cast statues and other objects in bronze, or how long the use of beaten copper preceded the art of casting in that metal. No light is thrown on this point by the earlier paintings, nor is there any representation in later times, among the many subjects connected with the trades, arts, and occupations of the Egyptians, which relates to this process:—one of the many proofs that no argument against the existence of a custom ought to be derived from the circumstance of its not being indicated on the monuments.

Many bronzes have been found, evidently, from their style, of a very early period. A cylinder, with the name of Papi, of the 6th Dynasty, has every appearance of having been cast; and other bronze implements of the same age bear still stronger evidence of having come from a mould; all of which date more than two thousand years before our era.

Pausanias, in speaking of the art of casting metal, says the people of Pheneum in Arcadia pretended that Ulysses dedicated a statue of bronze to Neptune Hippius, in order that he might recover the horses he had lost, through the intervention of the Deity; “indeed,” he adds, “they showed me an inscription on the pedestal of the statue offering a reward to any person who should find and take care of the animals; but I do not give credit to the whole of their statement, and no one can persuade me that Ulysses erected a bronze statue to Neptune. The art of fusing metal and casting it in a mould was not yet known; a statue was made in those times like a dress, successively, and in pieces, not at one time, or in a single mass, as I have already shown in speaking of the statue of Jupiter, surnamed the Most High. In fact, the first who cast statues were Rhœcus the son of Philæus, and Theodorus the son of Telecles, both natives of Samos; the latter the same who engraved the beautiful emerald in the ring of Polycrates.”

The Samians were noted at an early period for their skill in this branch of art; and before the foundation of Cyrene, or B.C. 630, they made a bronze vase, ornamented with griffins, supported on three colossal figures of the same metal, for the temple of Juno. The art was also known at a very remote period in Italy Among the Etruscans, bronze statues were common, before the foundation of Rome; and Romulus is said to have placed a statue of himself, crowned by Victory, in a four-horsed car of bronze, which had been captured at the taking of Camerium.

Pliny attributes the discovery of gold and the secret of smelting it to Cadmus, who is supposed to have gone to Greece 1493 years before our era; but this, like most of the inventions mentioned by him, was long before known to the Egyptians; and we may apply the same remark to the supposed discovery of Rhœcus and Theodorus.

It is uncertain whether the Egyptians possessed the art of damaskening or inlaying iron with gold, since, owing to the speedy decomposition of that metal, nothing made of iron has been preserved of a remote era; but we may conclude, from their inlaying bronze in this manner, that it was not unknown to them.

Some have supposed that Glaucus of Chios was the inventor of this art, and that the stand of his silver vase presented to the temple of Delphi by Alyattes king of Lydia, which, according to Herodotus, was the most beautiful of all the offerings there, was made of iron inlaid with gold. But the description given of it by Pausanias will scarcely sanction this opinion, as he states “it consisted of several plates of iron, adjusted one over the other in the form of steps, the last, that is, those of the summit, curving a little outwards. It had the form of a tower, large at the base, and decreasing upwards, and the pieces of which it was composed were not fastened either with nails or pins, but simply soldered together.”

The Greeks, however, were not ignorant of damaskening, and if the stand of Alyattes’ vase was not so inlaid, it is certain they possessed the art, and ornamented goblets and other objects in that manner. The process was very simple: the iron was carved with various devices, and the narrow lines thus hollowed out were filled with gold, or with silver, which in some instances may have been soldered, but in others was simply beaten in with the hammer, the surface being afterwards filed and polished.

The term damaskening, though generally confined to iron or steel so inlaid (owing to its having been borrowed from the specimens of this work in the modern sword blades of Damascus), may with equal propriety be extended to any metal; and numerous instances of bronze inlaid with gold and silver occur in statues, scarabæi, and various ornamental objects discovered at Thebes and other places. Hard stones were also engraved in the same manner, and the intaglio filled with gold or silver beaten into it; a process commonly adopted at the present day by the Turks, and other Eastern people, in their hookahs or nârgilehs, and in the stone ornaments of their amber mouth-pieces.

The art of soldering metals had long been practised in Egypt before the time of Glaucus; and it is curious to find gold and bronze vases, made apparently in the same manner as the stand of that mentioned by Pausanias, represented at Thebes, in the tribute brought from Asia to the third Thothmes, and consequently dating many centuries previous to the Chian artist. They are shown to have been composed of plates of metal, imbricated, or over-lapping each other, as Pausanias describes, and sometimes bound at intervals with bands of metal. Instances occur in the same sculptures of gold vases with stands formed of similar plates; which are interesting also from the elegance of their forms.


409.              Vases of the time of Thothmes III., imbricated, or ornamented with plates of metal. Thebes.

In coarser work, or in those parts which were out of sight, the Egyptians soldered with lead, but we are ignorant of the time when it was first used for that purpose, though it could only have been after the discovery of tin; for, as Pliny justly observes, “lead can only be united by the addition of tin, nor is this last efficient without the application of oil.” The oldest specimen of metal soldered with lead with which I am acquainted is the sistrum of Mr. Burton: its date, however, is uncertain; and though, from the style of the figures engraved upon it, we may venture to ascribe to it a Pharaonic age, the exact period when it was made cannot be fixed.

In early ages, before men had acquired the art of smelting ore, and of making arms and implements of metal, stones of various kinds were used, and the chasseur was contented with the pointed flint with which nature had provided him. The only effort of his ingenuity was to fix it in some kind of handle, or at the extremity of a reed, in order to make the knife, or the arrow; and we still witness the skill which some savage people of the present day display in constructing those rude weapons.

The Egyptians, at a remote period, before civilization dawned upon them, adopted the same; and we find that stone-tipped arrows continued to be occasionally used for hunting long after the metal head had been commonly adopted, and after the arts had arrived at the state of perfection in which they appear subsequently to the accession of the 18th dynasty. Long habit had reconciled them to the original reed shaft with its head of flint, and even to arrows made with a point of hard wood inserted into them, which were also the remnant of a primæval custom. Those, however, who preferred them of a stronger kind, adopted arrows of wood tipped with bronze heads; and these were considered more serviceable, and were almost invariably used in war.

The same prejudice in favour of an ancient and primitive custom retained the use of stone knives for certain purposes connected with religion among the Egyptians; and Herodotus tells us it was usual to make an incision in the body of the deceased, when brought to be embalmed, with an Ethiopic stone. This name, in all instances where the stone is said to be used for cutting, evidently signifies flint, which is shown by its frequent employment for that purpose among many people, and by our finding several flint knives in the tombs of Thebes. In other cases, the Ethiopic stone, mentioned by Herodotus, is evidently granite, so called from being common in Ethiopia; and it is possible that the flint received that name from its black colour.

The stone knives found in the excavations and tombs, many of which are preserved in our European museums, are generally of two kinds; one broad and flat like the blade of a knife, the other narrow and pointed at the summit, several of which are preserved in the Berlin Museum (fig. 1). These last are supposed to have been used for making the incision in the side of the body, for the purpose of removing the intestines, preparatory to the embalming process already mentioned; and, considering how strongly men’s minds are prepossessed in favour of early habits connected with religion, and how scrupulous the Egyptians were, above all people, in permitting the introduction of new customs in matters relating to the gods, we are not surprised that they should have retained the use of these primitive instruments in a ceremony of so sacred a nature as the embalming of the dead.


410.              Flint knives. Berlin Museum.

The difference in the type of the metal implements of the Egyptians and early European people is very marked. The former continued always to use flat blades of metal for adzes and hatchets; those of Italy, Greece, the Tyrol, Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and other parts of Europe, gradually changed the form of the flat blade (which had succeeded to the stone hammer and hatchet), and gave it projecting sides, then a transverse ridge in the centre to prevent the shifting of the wooden handle fitted upon it, and to withstand the shock of a blow; and at length they made it into a metal socket, with which the wood was shod. The mode of fastening the metal to the handle was the same in Europe as in Egypt; which was with thongs of hide (as is still done in the South Sea Islands and other places); but our various forms of celtes, or “hatchets,” were unknown to, and are readily distinguished from the tools of, the Egyptians.

Besides the various trades already noticed, were public weighers and common notaries, answering to the ḳabbáneh of modern Egypt. The business of the former was to ascertain the exact weight of everything they were called upon to measure, in the public street or market, where they temporarily erected their scales, and where the law compelled them to adjust the sale of each commodity with the strictest regard to justice, without favouring either the buyer or seller. All things sold by weight were submitted to this test, and the value of the money paid for them was settled by the same unquestionable criterion.

A scribe or notary marked down the amount of the weight, whatever the commodity might be; and this document, being given or shown to the parties, completely sanctioned the bargain, and served as a pledge that justice had been done them.

The same custom is still retained by the modern Egyptians, the scales of the public ḳabbáneh in the large towns being a criterion to which no one can object; and the weight of meat, vegetables, honey, butter, cheese, wood, charcoal, and other objects, having been ascertained, is returned in writing on the application of the parties.

The notaries were merely public writers, like the modern katebs of Egypt, or the scrivani of Italy, who for a small trifle compose and pen a petition to government, settle accounts, and write letters, or other documents not requiring the priest or the lawyer, for those who are untaught, or too idle to do so for themselves. These persons, however, must not be confounded with the “royal” or “priestly scribes”—men of high rank, of the military or sacerdotal class; and they were only on a par with the shopkeepers and master tradesmen, most of whom learnt to write; while the working men were contented to occupy their time in acquiring a knowledge of the art to which they were brought up.

Certain persons were also employed in the towns of Egypt, as at the present day in Cairo and other places, to pound various substances in large stone mortars; and salt, seeds, and other things were taken in the same manner by a servant to these shops, whenever it was inconvenient to have it done in the house. The pestles they used, as well as the mortars themselves, were precisely similar to those of the modern Egyptians; and their mode of pounding was the same; two men alternately raising ponderous metal pestles with both hands, and directing their falling point to the centre of the mortar, which is now generally made of a large piece of granite, or other hard stone, scooped out into a long narrow tube, to little more than half its depth. When the substance was well pounded, it was taken out, and passed through a sieve, and the larger particles were again returned to the mortar, until it was sufficiently and equally levigated; and this, and the whole process here represented, so strongly resemble the occupation of the public pounders at Cairo, that no one, who has been in the habit of walking in the streets of that town, can fail to recognise the custom, or doubt of its having been handed down from the early Egyptians, and retained without alteration to the present day.


411.              Pounding various substances in stone mortars, with metal pestles. Thebes.

a g i, mortars. d d, pestles. Figs. 1 and 2, alternately raising and letting fall the pestles into the mortar. Figs. 3 and 4, sifting the substance after it is pounded; the coarser parts, h, being returned into the mortar to be again pounded.

The occupation of the cooper was comparatively limited in Egypt, where water and other liquids were carried, or kept, in skins and earthenware jars; and wooden barrels were little suited to its arid climate. Barrels were not, therefore, in common use there; and the skill of the cooper was only required to make wooden measures for grain, which were bound with hoops either of wood or metal, and resembled in principle those used by the modern Egyptians for the same purpose; though in form some approached nearer to the small barrels, or kegs, of modern Europe.


L. Boats with coloured and embroidered Sails. Tomb of Remeses III. Thebes.


M. Cattle during the Inundation in the Delta.

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