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

THE interest that attaches to Egyptian art is from its great antiquity. We see in it the first attempts to represent what in after times, and in some other countries, gradually arrived, under better auspices, at the greatest perfection; and we even trace in it the germ of much that was improved upon by those, who had a higher appreciation of, and feeling for, the beautiful. For, both in ornamental art, as well as in architecture, Egypt exercised in early times considerable influence over other people less advanced than itself, or only just emerging from barbarism: and the various conventional devices, the lotus flowers, the sphinxes, and other fabulous animals, as well as the early Medusa’s head, with a protruding tongue, of the oldest Greek pottery and sculptures, and the ibex, leopard, and above all the (Nile) “goose and sun,” on the vases, show them to be connected with, and frequently directly borrowed from, Egyptian fancy. It was, as it still is, the custom of people to borrow from those who have attained to a greater degree of refinement and civilization than themselves; the nation most advanced in art led the taste; and though some had sufficient invention to alter what they adopted, and to render it their own, the original idea may still be traced whenever it has been derived from a foreign source. Egypt was long the dominant nation, and the intercourse established at a very remote period with other countries, through commerce or war, carried abroad the taste of this the most advanced people of the time; and so general seems to have been the fashion of their ornaments, that even the Nineveh marbles present the winged globe, and other well-known Egyptian emblems, as established elements of Assyrian decorative art. This fact would suffice to disprove the early date of the marbles hitherto discovered, which are in fact of a period comparatively modern in the history of Egypt; and recent discoveries have fully justified the opinion I ventured to express, when they were first brought to this country: 1º, that they are not of archaic style, and that original Assyrian art is still to be looked for; 2º, that they give evidences of the decadence, not the rise, of art; and 3º, that they have borrowed much from Egypt, long the dominant country in power and art, and will be found to date within 1000 B.C. This, however, is far from lessening their importance; for the periods they chiefly illustrate—those of Shalmaneser and Sennacherib, so closely connected with Hebrew history—give an interest to them, which the oldest monuments of Assyria would fail to possess.

While Greece was still in its infancy, Egypt had long been the leading nation of the world; she was noted for her magnificence, her wealth, and power, and all acknowledged her preeminence in wisdom and civilization. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Greeks should have admitted into their early art some of the forms then most in vogue; and though the wonderful taste of that gifted people speedily raised them to a point of excellence, never attained by the Egyptians or any others, the rise and first germs of art and architecture must be sought in the valley of the Nile. In the oldest monuments of Greece, the sloping or pyramidal line constantly predominates; the columns in the oldest Greek order are almost purely Egyptian, in the proportions of the shaft, and in the form of its shallow flutes without fillets; and it is a remarkable fact that the oldest Egyptian columns are those which bear the closest resemblance to the Greek Doric.

Though great variety was permitted in objects of luxury, as furniture, vases, and other things depending on caprice, the Egyptians were forbidden to introduce any material innovations into the human figure, such as would alter its general character; and all subjects connected with religion retained to the last the same conventional type. A god in the latest temple was of the same form, as when represented on monuments of the earliest date; and King Menes would have recognised Amun, or Osiris, in a Ptolemaic or a Roman sanctuary. In sacred subjects the law was inflexible; and religion, which has frequently done so much for the development and direction of taste in sculpture, had the effect of fettering the genius of Egyptian artists. No improvements, resulting from experience and observation, were admitted in the mode of drawing the human figure; to copy nature was not allowed; it was therefore useless to study it, and no attempt was made to give the proper action to the limbs. Certain rules, certain models had been established by the priesthood; and the faulty conceptions of ignorant times were copied and perpetuated by every successive artist. For, as Plato and Synesius say, the Egyptian sculptors were not suffered to attempt anything contrary to the regulations laid down regarding the figures of the gods; they were forbidden to introduce any change, or to invent new subjects and habits; and thus the art, and the rules which bound it, always remained the same.

Egyptian bas-relief appears to have been, in its origin, a mere copy of painting, its predecessor. The first attempt to represent the figures of gods, sacred emblems, and other subjects consisted in drawing, or painting, simple outlines of them on a flat surface, the details being afterwards put in with colour; but in process of time these forms were traced on stone with a tool, and the intermediate space between the various figures being afterwards cut away, the once level surface assumed the appearance of a bas-relief. It was, in fact, a pictorial representation on stone, which is evidently the character of all the bas-reliefs on Egyptian monuments; and which readily accounts for the imperfect arrangement of their figures.

Deficient in conception, and above all in a proper knowledge of grouping, they were unable to form those combinations which give true expression; every picture was made up of isolated parts, put together according to some general notions, but without harmony, or preconceived effect. The human face, the whole body, and everything they introduced, were composed in the same manner, of separate members placed together one by one according to their relative situations: the eye, the nose, and other features composed a face; but the expression of feelings and passions was entirely wanting; and the countenance of the king, whether charging an enemy’s phalanx in the heat of battle, or peaceably offering incense in a sombre temple, presented the same outline and the same inanimate look. The peculiarity of the front view of an eye, introduced in a profile, is thus accounted for: it was the ordinary representation of that feature added to a profile, and no allowance was made for any change in the position of the head.

It was the same with drapery: the figure was first drawn, and the drapery then added, not as part of the whole, but as an accessory; they had no general conception, no previous idea of the effect required to distinguish the warrior or the priest, beyond the impressions received from costume, or from the subject of which they formed a part; and the same figure was dressed according to the character it was intended to perform. Every portion of a picture was conceived by itself, and inserted as it was wanted to complete the scene; and when the walls of the building, where a subject was to be drawn, had been accurately ruled with squares, the figures were introduced, and fitted to this mechanical arrangement. The members were appended to the body, and these squares regulated their form and distribution, in whatever posture they might be placed.

As long as this conventional system continued, no great change could take place, beyond a slight variation in the proportions, which at one period became more elongated, particularly in the reign of the second Remeses; but still the general form and character of the figures continued the same, which led to the remark of Plato, “that the pictures and statues made ten thousand years ago, are in no one particular better or worse than what they now make.” And taken in this limited sense—that no nearer approach to the beau ideal of the human figure, or its real character, was made at one period than another—his remark is true, since they were always bound by the same regulations, which prohibited any change in these matters, even to the latest times; as is evident from the sculptures of the monuments erected after Egypt had long been a Roman province. All was still Egyptian, though of bad style; and if they then attempted to finish the details with more precision, it was only substituting ornament for simplicity; and the endeavour to bring the proportions of the human figure nearer to nature, with the retention of its conventional type, only made its deformity greater, and showed how incompatible the Egyptian was with any other style.

The proportions of the human figure did not, as I have just said, continue always the same. During the 4th and other early dynasties it differed from that of the Augustan age of the 18th and 19th; and another change took place under the Ptolemies. The chief alteration was in the height of the knee from the ground, which was higher during the 18th and 19th than in the ancient and later periods. The whole height of the figure in bas-reliefs and paintings was then divided into nineteen parts; and the wall having been ruled in squares, according to its intended size, all the parts of it were put in according to their established positions; the knee, for instance, falling on the sixth line. But the length of the foot was not, as in Greece, the standard from which they reckoned; for being equal to 3 spaces, it could not be taken as the base of 19; though the height of the foot being 1 might answer for the unit. (See Müller’s Ancient Art, p. 392, on Greek forms.)


444.              Mode of drawing the human figure on a wall, previous to its being sculptured or painted; showing the proportions during the 18th and 19th dynasties. Thebes.

In the composition of modern paintings three objects are required: one main action; one point of view; and one instant of time: and the proportions and harmony of the parts are regulated by perspective; but in Egyptian sculpture these essentials were disregarded: every thing was sacrificed to the principal figure; its colossal dimensions pointed it out as a centre to which all the rest was a mere accessory; and, if any other was made equally conspicuous, or of equal size, it was still in a subordinate station, and only intended to illustrate the scene connected with the hero of the piece.

In the paintings of the tombs greater licence was allowed in the representation of subjects relating to private life, the trades, or the manners and occupations of the people; and some indication of perspective in the position of the figures may occasionally be observed: but the attempt was imperfect, and, probably, to an Egyptian eye, unpleasing; for such is the force of habit, that even where nature is copied, a conventional style is sometimes preferred to a more accurate representation.

In the battle scenes on the temples of Thebes, some of the figures representing the monarch pursuing the flying enemy, despatching a hostile chief with his sword, and drawing his bow, as his horses carry his car over the prostrate bodies of the slain, are drawn with much spirit; and the position of the arms gives a perfect idea of the action which the artist intended to portray; still, the same imperfections of style, and want of truth, are observed; there is action, but no sentiment, expression of the passions, nor life in the features; it is a figure ready formed, and mechanically varied into movement; and whatever position it is made to assume, the point of view is the same: the identical profile of the human body with the anomaly of the shoulders seen in front. It is a description, rather than a representation.

But in their mode of portraying a large crowd of persons they often show great cleverness; and, as their habit was to avoid uniformity, the varied positions of the heads give a truth to the subject without fatiguing the eye. Nor have they any symmetrical arrangement of figures, on opposite sides of a picture, such as we find in some of the very early paintings in Europe.

In the representation of animals, they appear not to have been restricted to the same rigid style; but genius once cramped can scarcely be expected to make any great effort to rise, or to succeed in the attempt; and the same union of parts into a whole, the same preference for profile, and the same stiff action, are observable in these as in the human figure. Seldom did they attempt to draw the face in front, either of men or animals; and when this was done, it fell far short of the profile, and was composed of the same juxtaposition of parts. It must, however, be allowed, that in general the character and form of animals were admirably portrayed; the parts were put together with greater truth; and the same conventionality was not maintained, as in the shoulders and other portions of the human body. Nor will I deny that great life and animation are given to the antelope, and many wild beasts, in the hunting scenes of the Theban tombs.

The mode of representing men and animals in profile is primitive, and characteristic of the commencement of art: the first attempts made by an uncivilised people are confined to it; and until the genius of artists bursts forth, this style continues to hold its ground. From its simplicity it is readily understood; the most inexperienced perceive the object intended to be represented, and no effort is required to comprehend it. Hence it is that, though few combinations can be made under such restrictions, those few are perfectly intelligible, the eye being aware of the resemblance to the simple exterior; and the modern uninstructed peasant of Egypt, who is immediately struck with and understands the paintings of the Theban tombs, if shown an European drawing, is seldom able to distinguish men from animals; and no argument will induce him to tolerate foreshortening, the omission of those parts of the body concealed from his view by the perspective of the picture, or the introduction of shadows, particularly on the human flesh.

Bas-relief may be considered the earliest style of sculpture. It originated in those pictorial representations which were the primæval records of a people anxious to commemorate their victories, the accession or the virtues of a king, and other events connected with their history. These were the first purposes to which the imitative powers of the mind were applied; but the progress was slow, and the infant art (if it may be so called) passed through several stages ere it had the power of portraying real occurrences, and imitating living scenes. The rude outlines of a man holding a spear, a sword, or other weapon, or killing a wild animal, were first drawn, or scratched, upon a rock, as a sort of hieroglyphic; but in process of time the warrior and a prostrate foe were attempted, and the valour of the prince who had led them to victory was recorded by this simple group.

As their skill increased, the mere figurative representation was extended to that of a descriptive kind, and some resemblance of the hero’s person was attempted; his car, the army he commanded, and the flying enemies, were introduced; and what was at first scarcely more than a symbol, aspired to the more exalted form and character of a picture. Of a similar nature were all their historical records; and these pictorial illustrations were a substitute for written documents. Rude drawing and sculpture, indeed, long preceded letters, and we find that even in Greece, to describe, draw, engrave, and write, were expressed by the same word, γραφειν.

The want of letters, and the inability to describe an individual, his occupations, or his glorious actions, led them in early ages to bury with the body some object which might indicate the character of the deceased. Thus, warriors were interred with their arms; artisans with the implements they had used; the oar was placed over the sailor; and pateræ, and other utensils connected with his office, or the emblems of the deity in whose service he had been employed, were deposited in the sepulchre of a priest. In those times a simple mound was raised over chieftains, sometimes with a rough stone pillar placed upon it, but no inscription; and even, at a later period, when they intended to show the occupations of the deceased, an allegorical emblem was often engraved on the levelled surface of the stone, and the implements continued to be buried with them, after writing was invented.

Poetry and songs also supplied the want of writing to record the details of events; and tradition handed down the glorious achievements of a conqueror, and the history of past years, with the precision and enthusiasm of national pride. The poetry was recited to the sound of music; whence the same expression often implied the “ode” and the “song;” and as laws were recorded in a similar manner, the word νομος signified, as Aristotle observes, both a “law” and a “song.”

Man attempted sculpture long before he studied architecture: a simple hut, or a rude house, answered every purpose as a place of abode, and a long time elapsed before he sought to invent what was not demanded by necessity.

Architecture is a creation of the mind; it has no model in nature, and it requires great imaginative powers to conceive its ideal beauties, to make a proper combination of parts, and to judge of the harmony of forms altogether new and beyond the reach of experience. But the desire in man to imitate and to record what has passed before his eyes, in short, to transfer the impression from his own mind to another, is natural in every stage of society; and however imperfectly he may succeed in representing the objects themselves, his attempts to indicate their relative position, and to embody the expression of his own ideas, are a source of the highest satisfaction.

As the wish to record events gave the first, religion gave the second impulse to sculpture. The simple pillar of wood or stone, which was originally chosen to represent the deity, afterwards assumed the human form, the noblest image of the power that created it; though the Hermæ of Greece were not, as some have thought, the origin of statues, but were borrowed from the mummy-shaped gods of Egypt.

Pausanias thinks that “all statues were in ancient times of wood, particularly those made in Egypt;” but this must have been at a period so remote as to be far beyond the known history of that country; though it is probable that when the arts were in their infancy the Egyptians were confined to statues of that kind; and they occasionally erected wooden figures in their temples, even till the times of the latter Pharaohs.

Long after men had attempted to make out the parts of the figure, statues continued to be very rude; the arms were placed directly down the side to the thighs, and the legs were united together; nor did they pass beyond this imperfect state in Greece, until the age of Dædalus. Fortunately for themselves and for the world, the Greeks were allowed to free themselves from old habits; while the Egyptians, at the latest periods, continued to follow the imperfect models of their early artists, and were for ever prevented from arriving at excellence in sculpture: and though they made great progress in other branches of art, though they evinced considerable taste in the forms of their vases, their furniture, and even in some architectural details, they were for ever deficient in ideal beauty, and in the mode of representing the natural positions of the human figure.

In Egypt, the prescribed automaton character of the figures effectually prevented all advancement in the statuary’s art; the limbs being straight, without any attempt at action, or, indeed, any indication of life: they were really statues of the person they represented, not the person “living in marble;” in which they differed entirely from those of Greece. No statue of a warrior was sculptured in the varied attitudes of attack and defence; no wrestler, no discobolus, no pugilist exhibited the grace, the vigour, or the muscular action of a man; nor were the beauties, the feeling, and the elegance of female forms displayed in stone: all was made to conform to the same invariable model, which confined the human figure to a few conventional postures.

A sitting statue, whether of a man or woman, was represented with the hands placed upon the knees, or held across the breast; a kneeling figure sometimes supported a small shrine or sacred emblem; and when standing, the arms were placed directly down the sides of the thighs, one foot (and that always the left) being advanced beyond the other, as if in the attitude of walking, but without any attempt to separate the legs.

The oldest. Egyptian sculptures on all large monuments were in low relief, and, as usual at every period, painted (obelisks and everything carved in hard stone, some funereal tablets, and other small objects, being in intaglio); and this style continued in vogue until the time of Remeses II., who introduced intaglio very generally on large monuments; and even his battle scenes at Karnak and the Memnonium are executed in this manner. The reliefs were little raised above the level of the wall; they had generally a flat surface with the edges softly rounded off, far surpassing the intaglio in effect; and it is to be regretted that the best epoch of art, when design and execution were in their zenith, should have abandoned a style so superior; which, too, would have improved in proportion to the advancement of that period.

Intaglio continued to be generally employed, until the accession of the 26th dynasty, when the low relief was again introduced; and in the monuments of Psammitichus and Amasis are numerous instances of the revival of the ancient style. This was afterwards universally adopted, and a return to intaglio on large monuments was only occasionally attempted, in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

The intaglio introduced by Remeses may, perhaps, be denominated intaglio rilievato, or relieved intaglio. The sides of the incavo, which are perpendicular, are cut to a considerable depth, and from that part to the centre of the figure (or whatever is represented) is a gradual swell, the centre being frequently on a level with the surface of the wall. On this all the parts of dress, features, or devices, are delineated and painted, and even the perpendicular sides are ornamented in a corresponding manner, by continuing upon them the adjoining details.

In the reign of Remeses III. a change was made in the mode of sculpturing the intaglios, which consisted in carving the lower side to a great depth, while the upper face inclined gradually from the surface of the wall till it reached the innermost part of the intaglio; its principal use was for the hieroglyphics, in order to enable a person standing immediately beneath, and close to the wall on which they were sculptured, to distinguish and read them; and the details upon the perpendicular sides, above mentioned, had the same effect.

It was a peculiarity of style not generally imitated by the successors of Remeses III., and hieroglyphics bearing this character may serve to fix the date of monuments, wherever they are found, to the age of that monarch. After his reign no great encouragement appears to have been given to the arts; the subjects represented on the few monuments of the epoch intervening between his death, and the accession of the 26th dynasty, are principally confined to sacred subjects, in which no display of talent is shown; and the records of Sheshonk’s victories at Karnak are far from partaking of the vigour of former times, either in style, or in the mode of treating the subject.

After the accession of the 26th dynasty some attempt was made to revive the arts, which had been long neglected; and independent of the patronage of government, the wealth of private individuals was liberally employed in their encouragement. Public buildings were erected in many parts of Egypt, and beautified with rich sculpture; the city of Saïs, the royal residence of the Pharaohs of that dynasty, was adorned with the utmost magnificence; and extensive additions were made to the temples of Memphis, and even to those of the distant Thebes.

The fresh impulse thus given to art was not without effect; the sculptures of that period exhibit an elegance and beauty which might even induce some to consider them equal to the productions of an earlier age; and in the tombs of the Assaseef, at Thebes, are many admirable specimens of Egyptian art. To those, however, who understand the true feeling of this peculiar school, it is evident, that though in minuteness and finish they are deserving of the highest commendation, yet in grandeur of conception and in boldness of execution, they fall far short of the sculptures of Sethos, and the second Remeses.

The skill of the Egyptian artists in drawing bold and clear outlines is, perhaps, more worthy of admiration than anything connected with this branch of art; and in no place is the freedom of their drawing more conspicuous than in the figures in the unfinished part of Belzoni’s tomb at Thebes. It was in the drawing alone that they excelled, being totally ignorant of the correct mode of colouring a figure; and their painting was not an imitation of nature, but merely the harmonious combination of certain hues, which they well understood. Indeed, to this day the harmony of positive colours is thoroughly felt in Egypt and the East; and it is strange to find the little perception of it in Northern Europe, where theories take upon themselves to explain to the mind what the eye has not yet learnt, as if a grammar could be written before the language is understood.

Drawing was always a principal point in ancient art. The Greeks made it their great study, knowing how it improved the accuracy of the eye and the management of the hand, as well as the perception of the beautiful; and the most extraordinary correctness must have been acquired to enable Apelles to draw the line within that of Protogenes.

The neglect that drawing has experienced in England is now, we may hope, in a fair way of being remedied; for to many a real line has been almost unknown; and while the French have persevered so successfully in drawing, we have seldom been alive to its importance; occasionally excusing ourselves from the trouble by some such subterfuge as, “there is no outline in nature.” How often indeed is a line made up of a few dotted strokes; and many a youth, as yet unacquainted with the proper use of a pencil, thinks that the brush will at once enable him to acquire excellence in art!

Of the quality of the pencils used by the Egyptians for drawing and painting, it is difficult to form any opinion. Those generally employed for writing were a reed or rush, many of which have been found with the tablets or inkstands belonging to the scribes; and with these, too, they probably sketched the figures in red and black upon the stone or stucco of the walls. To put in the colour, we may suppose that brushes of some kind were used; but the minute scale on which the painters are represented in the sculptures prevents our deciding the question.

Habits among men of similar occupations are frequently alike, even in the most distant countries; and we find it was not unusual for an Egyptian artist, or scribe, to put his reed pencil behind his ear, when engaged in examining the effect of his painting, or listening to a person on business, like a clerk in the counting-house of an European town.

Painters and scribes deposited their writing implements in a box with a pendent leather top, which was tied up with a loop or thong; and a handle or strap was fastened to the side, to enable them to carry it more conveniently. Their ordinary wooden inkstand was furnished with two or more cavities for holding the colours, and a tube in the centre for the pens or reeds; and certain memoranda were frequently written at the back of it, when a large piece of papyrus, or the wooden slab, was not at hand. An idle moment was often occupied in making rough sketches on a piece of stone or on some other common material; and subjects of greater size were drawn in a happy mood of fancy, upon a papyrus: for the Egyptians (as I have already said) were addicted to caricature, and some papyri in the British and other museums show that even religious subjects were not exempt from it; and one in the Turin collection presents a severe libel on the taste and conduct of women.


445.              A scribe writing or a tablet. c and d are two cases for carrying writing materials. Thebes.


446.              Scribe with his inkstand upon the table. One pen is put behind his ear, and he is writing with another. Thebes.

Of painting, apart from sculpture, and of the excellence to which it attained in Egypt, we can form no accurate opinion, nothing having come down to us of a Pharaonic period, or of that epoch when the arts were at their zenith in Egypt; but that, already, in the time of Osirtasen, they painted on panel, is shown by one of the subjects at Beni Hassan, where two artists are engaged in a picture representing a calf, and an antelope overtaken by a dog. The painter holds his brush in one hand, and his palette or saucer of colour in the other; but, though the boards stand upright, there is no indication of a contrivance to steady or support the hand. The Greeks drew and painted in the same manner without that help.


447.              Artists painting on a board, and colouring a statue. Beni Hassan.

Mention is made of an Egyptian painting by Herodotus, who tells us that Amasis sent a portrait of himself to Cyrene, probably on wood, and in profile; for the full face is rarely represented either in their paintings, or bas-reliefs. The faces of the kings in the tombs and temples of Egypt are unquestionably portraits; but they are always in profile; and the only ones in full face are on wood, and of late time. Two of these are preserved in the British Museum, but they are evidently Greek, and date, perhaps, even after the conquest of Egypt by the Romans. It is therefore vain to speculate on the nature of their painting, or their skill in this branch of art; and, though some of the portraits taken from the mummies may prove that encaustic painting with wax and naphtha was adopted in Egypt, the time when it was first known there is uncertain, nor can we conclude from a specimen of Greek time, that the same was practised in a Pharaonic age.

Fresco painting was entirely unknown in Egypt; and the figures on walls were always drawn and painted after the stucco was quite dry. But they sometimes coated the colours with a transparent varnish, which was also done by the Greeks; and the wax said by the younger Pliny to have been used for this purpose, on the painted exterior of a house at Stabia, may have been a substitute for the usual varnish; which last would have been far more durable under a hot Italian sun.

Pliny states, in his chapter on inventions, that “Gyges, a Lydian, was the earliest painter in Egypt; and Euchir, a cousin of Dædalus according to Aristotle, the first in Greece; or, as Theophrastus thinks, Polygnotus the Athenian.” But the painting represented in Beni Hassan evidently dates before any of those artists. Pliny, in another place, says, “the origin of painting is uncertain: the Egyptians pretend that it was invented by them 6000 years before it passed into Greece; a vain boast, as every one will allow.” It must, however, be admitted, that all the arts (however imperfect) were cultivated in Egypt long before Greece existed as a nation; and the remark he afterwards makes, that painting was unknown at the period of the Trojan war, can only be applied to the Greeks; as is shown by the same unquestionable authority at Beni Hassan, dating about 900 years before the time usually assigned to the taking of Troy.

It is probable that the artists, in Egypt, who painted on wood, were in higher estimation than mere decorators; as was the case in Greece, where “no artists were in repute but those who executed pictures on wood, for neither Ludius nor any other wall painter was of any renown.” The Greeks preferred moveable pictures, which could be taken away in case of fire, or sold if necessary; and as Pliny says, “there was no painting on the walls of Apelles’ house” (or “no painting by Apelles on the walls of a house”). The painting and decoration of buildings was another and an inferior branch of art. The pictures were put up in temples, as the works of great masters in later times in churches; but they were not dedications, nor solely connected with sacred subjects; and the temple was selected as the place of security, as it often was as a repository of treasure. They had also picture galleries in some secure place; as in the Acropolis of Athens.

Outline figures on walls were in all countries the earliest style of painting; they were in the oldest temples of Latium; and in Egypt they preceded the more elaborate style, that was afterwards followed by bas-relief and intaglio. In Greece, during the middle period, which was that of the best art, pictures were painted on wood, by the first artists; and Raoul-Rochette thinks that if any of them painted on walls, this was accidental; and the finest pictures being on wood were in after times carried off to Rome. This removal was lamented by the Greeks “as a spoliation”; which having left the walls bare accounts for Pausanias saying so little about pictures in Greece. Historical compositions were of course the highest branch of art; though many of the greatest Greek artists, who seem to have excelled in all styles, often treated inferior subjects; and some (as in later times) combined the two highest arts of sculpture and painting.

In the infancy of art figures were represented in profile; but afterwards they were rare in Greece; and art could not reach any degree of excellence until figures in a composition had ceased to be in profile; and it was only in order to conceal the loss of an eye that Apelles gave one side of the face, in his portrait of Antigonus.

The oldest paintings were also, as Pliny admits, monochrome, or painted of one uniform colour; like those of Egypt; and indeed statues in Greece were at first of one colour, doubtless red like those of the Egyptians, Romans, and Etruscans. For not only bas-reliefs were painted, which as parts of a coloured building was a necessity, but statues also; and as art advanced they were made to resemble real life. For that statue by Scopas, of a Bacchante, with a disembowelled fawn, whose cadaverous hue contrasted with the rest, at once shows that it was painted, and not of a monochrome colour; and the statues of Praxiteles, painted for him by Nicias, would not have been preferred by that sculptor to his other works, if they had merely been stained red The blue eyes of Minerva’s statue; the inside of her shield painted by Pannæus, and the outside by Phidias, (originally a painter himself), could only have been parts of the whole coloured figure; Pannæus assisted in painting the statue of Olympian Jupiter; and ivory statues were said to have been prevented turning yellow by the application of colour.

If the artists of Greece did not paint on walls, it was not from any mistaken pride, since even the greatest of them would paint statues not of their own work; and those in modern days who study decorative art will do well to remember that to employ superior taste in ornamental composition is no degradation, and that the finest specimens of decorative work in the middle ages were executed by the most celebrated artists.

Egyptian architecture evidently derived much from the imitation of different natural productions, as palm trees, and various plants of the country; but Egyptian columns were not borrowed from the wooden supports of the earliest buildings. Columns were not introduced into the interior of their houses until architecture had made very great progress; the small original temple, and the primitive dwelling, consisted merely of four walls; and neither the column nor its architrave were borrowed from wooden constructions, nor from the house. And though the architrave was derived in Egypt as elsewhere, from constructed buildings, that member originated in the stone beam, reaching from pillar to pillar, in the temples. And if the square stone pillar was used in the quarry, the stone architrave was unknown to the Egyptians, until they found reason to increase the size of, and add a portico to, their temples. And that the portico was neither a necessary, nor an original, part of their temples is plainly shown by the smaller sanctuaries being built, even at the latest times, without it. Some members of Egyptian architecture, it is true, were derived from the woodwork of the primitive house or temple; as the overhanging cornice, and the torus that runs up the ends of the walls, which it separates from the cornice; the former being the projecting roof of palm branches, and the other the framework of reeds bound together, which secured the mud (or bricks) composing the walls.

The early houses of Egypt were of mud; and the masses of that material, used in making their walls, afterwards led to the simple invention of large sun-baked bricks. The flat roof was of palm-beams, covered with branches of the same tree, and a thick coating of mud laid upon them completed the whole. But it was not till luxury had been introduced that the column performed a part in an Egyptian mansion; and the temple of early Egypt was a simple quadrangular chamber. (See a complete Temple in Frontispiece, Vol. I.)

Square pillars were the first used; and their presence in the old temples is consistent with the fact of their having been the first kind adopted there. They are found in some of the earliest constructed porticoes, and in the peristyles of the old peripteral temples. This square pillar originated in the stone quarry, where too it appears without any architrave; a mere mass, often rather irregular, left to support the roof; and when in after times large tombs and temples were excavated in the rock, they in their turn borrowed from constructed monuments; and the pillar was no longer permitted to support the roof, without the intervening architrave.

Thus then, constructed buildings were indebted to the quarry for the pillar; and rock-hewn monuments derived from the former the architrave and plinth. The same spirit of imitation also led to the introduction of square dentils over an architrave, as in the façade of a tomb at Beni Hassan; and the ceiling of one of the rock tombs at the Pyramids imitating the palm beams of a house, is another proof that the two borrowed from each other. In these, the rock monuments imitated timber roofs; but this was long after columns and architraves had been used in temples, and architecture was then only dependent for new features on caprice or taste.

As painted decoration preceded sculpture, the ornaments (in later times carved in stone) were at first represented in colour; and the mouldings of Egyptian monuments were then merely painted on the flat surfaces of the walls and pillars. The next step was to chisel them in relief. The lotus blossom, the papyrus head, water-plants, the palm-tree, and the head of a goddess, were among the usual ornaments of a cornice, or a pillar; and these favourite devices of ancient days continued in after times to be repeated in relief, when an improved style of art had substituted sculpture for the mere painted representation. But when the square pillar had been gradually converted into a polygonal shape, the ornamental devices not having room enough upon its narrow facettes, led to the want and invention of another form of column; and from that time a round shaft was surmounted by the palm-tree capital, or by the blossom, or the bud of the papyrus; which had hitherto only been painted, or represented in relief, upon the flat surfaces of a square pillar. Hence the origin of new orders differing so widely from the polygonal column.

It is a curious fact that both the Egyptians and the Greeks began with the same simple polygonal column; the severe grandeur of which we admire in both styles of architecture. Those at Beni Hassan are 3 feet 4 inches in diameter, and 16 feet 8½ inches high. They have sixteen faces or grooves, each about eight inches wide, and so slight and elegant that their depth does not exceed half an inch; and one of the faces, which is not hollowed into a groove, is left for the introduction of a column of hieroglyphics. The old and new orders continued, for some time, to divide the taste of the early Egyptian architects; until at length when the size and height of Egyptian buildings had increased beyond the scale adapted to the old polygonal shaft, the more elongated style of the new columns superseded the use of their rival; and in the later periods of the native dynasties these, with the varieties that grew out of them, were employed to the entire exclusion of the old order.

It is uncertain when the new columns were invented; but the water-plant capital with the blossom and bud of the lotus and the papyrus, and probably also the palm-tree column, were used at least as early as the 6th dynasty; and the most elegant of the water-plant columns are those in the tombs of Beni Hassan, where they were used contemporaneously with the polygonal and fluted order. A capital, resembling a bunch of flax, or other flowers, is also represented in early paintings supporting wooden canopies.


448.              Section of one of the southern grottoes of Beni Hassan.

The palm-tree, and water-plant, columns were not therefore in imitation of the wooden support of the early roof; they owed their origin to the devices painted, and afterwards sculptured, on the face of the square pillar, which was carved into a round shaft and capital to imitate the shape of the plant itself; and the binding together of a number of water-plants, to form a column, was evidently not taken from a similar frail support, but was a fanciful caprice, borrowed from the ornaments of the old pillar.

The formation of the polygonal and circular fluted column was evidently owing to the four corners of the square pillar having been first cut off for convenience. This converted it into an octagonal shaft; and in course of time, the eight sides having been again subdivided, the number was increased to 12, 16, 20, and 32; and these flat facettes being hollowed into grooves presented the actual form of the fluted column. It was doubtless from this, the oldest Egyptian order, that the Greeks borrowed their Doric shaft; and it is not impossible that the Doric capital may even have been taken from that of the water-plant column; since by removing the upper part, and bringing down the abacus, it gives the very shape of the Doric capital. The annuli also round the neck of that early Greek column seem also to be taken from the bands tied round the cluster of water-plants; which are an anomaly in a single shaft where there is nothing to bind.

The Egyptian column, like that of Greece, was constructed of several pieces; but it consisted of half (not of whole) drums, with the joint placed alternately one way and the other; each two at right angles with those next below and above them, sometimes secured by dovetailed cramps. Whole drums were never used, except in a few small granite shafts; and the only columns of a single piece were of that stone; which were also of moderate dimensions, and nearly confined to temples in the Delta.


449.              Fig. 1. Columns in the portico of the northern grottoes of Beni Hassan.

2. Columns of the interior.

3. Horizontal section of fig. 2, showing the grooves.

4. One of the grooves on a larger scale.

5. An Egyptian capital, which seems to have been the origin of the Doric, fig. 6.

Nor were the Egyptian drums secured or adjusted with the precision of those in the Parthenon, and other Greek buildings, by means of a cramp and socket in the centre, round which the upper drums were turned, till the two moistened surfaces had been ground together, and their edges made to fit with the greatest nicety; leaving a slightly concave space around the cramp.

Egyptian columns may be classed in eight orders, as in the accompanying wood-cut, where, being drawn to the same scale, their respective dimensions are shown. For though columns of the same order vary very much in different buildings, an average proportion may be assigned to them; which indeed is all that can be done in those of Greece, though they varied less than in Egyptian architecture. In point of antiquity the first was certainly the square pillar; then the polygonal and round fluted column of the second order; and soon afterwards the third and fourth came into use. But the fourth and fifth, though used long before, were not common till the 18th dynasty, and the fourth assumed a larger size than any other, as at Karnak and Luxor. The sixth, though mostly in Ptolemaic and Roman temples, dates at least as early as the 18th dynasty; as does the eighth, which is, in fact, the square pillar, with a figure attached, and the evident original of the Caryatide of Greece; but the seventh is limited to the age of the Ptolemies, and has an endless variety in the form and ornaments of its capital. It was, however, quite Egyptian, and in no way indebted to Greek taste for its introduction. Of the same kind were the columns described by Athenæus (v. 103), with circular capitals, set round with rose-like ornaments, or with flowers and interlaced leaves; some of which were made of the long tapering form used in their houses; to which he also alludes. There was also a pilaster surmounted by a cow’s head.


450.              The five first orders of columns; to the same scale.


450 a. The remaining three orders of columns, and the scale.

The figure attached to the square pillar was that of the king, in the form of Osiris, whence I have given it the name of “Osiride pillar.” But it did not support any member of the building; the sacred person of a king could not be subjected to such a degradation, and it was merely ornamental. Not so the figures, and heads, of captives made to support thrones, tables, or various parts of architecture; and vanquished chiefs performed the duties of consoles, over the window-sills in the palace of the third Remeses in Thebes; as they decorated the sandals, and thrones, of other Pharaohs.


451.              Heads of enemies once supporting something now removed. Thebes.

The oldest existing monuments in the world are the Pyramids and the tombs about them, which date as far back as the 4th, and perhaps 3rd, dynasty, and show at what a remote period sculpture and the use of squared stone in horizontal courses were practised in Egypt. The employment of squared granite blocks, and the beauty of the masonry in the interior of the Pyramids (which has not been surpassed, if even equalled, at any subsequent age), also prove the degree of skill the Egyptians had reached at a time long anterior to the building of the walls of Tiryns, and, consequently, to the rudest attempts in masonry in Italy or Greece. How long they took to arrive at that perfection it is difficult to determine; but the period between the builders of the Pyramids and the reign of Tosorthrus, the second king of the 3rd dynasty, said by Manetho to have first used squared stone, is evidently much too short; and we may conclude that it was known to them, as well as the engineering skill required for changing the course of the Nile, even before the reign of Menes.

Another very remarkable invention of those early times was the glazed tiles used for lining the walls of a chamber in the pyramid of Sakkára, and bearing the name of a king of the 3rd or 4th dynasty, the employment of which in wainscoting Egyptian rooms is mentioned by Athenæus (v. 104). He describes them of a white and black colour, here and there intermixed with slabs of alabaster; but they made them of various hues; and those at Sakkára are blue and white.

For their devices the Egyptians frequently selected objects which were favourites with them, as the lotus and other flowers, and these, as well as various animals or their heads, were adopted, to form a cornice, particularly in their houses and tombs, or to ornament fancy articles of furniture and of dress. In this they committed an error, which the Greeks, with a finer perception of taste and adaptability, rightly avoided. These refined people knew that in architecture conventional devices had a much more pleasing effect than objects merely copied from nature; for, besides the incongruity of an actual representation of flowers to compose mouldings and other decorative parts of architecture, the imperfect imitation in an unsuitable material has a bad effect. To represent figures on buildings in their proper and dignified places belongs to sculpture, which then exercises its talent in the way eminently suited to it, and it is the province of art to imitate nature both in sculpture and painting. But neither the works of the sculptor should be degraded by being made merely decorative, nor should decorative design attempt to pass beyond its own sphere. The latter remark applies equally to embroidery and household furniture: even tapestry goes out of its own province when it invades that of painting; and our worsted work mistakes its capabilities, when it represents men and other natural objects in staircase outlines, and transfers them from their proper place, a picture, to its conventional squares.

The Greeks preferred taking the sentiment of natural objects to making a direct copy of them when intended for ornament, and it is evident that their elegant honeysuckle moulding would lose all its beauty, if it were converted into a close representation of the real flower and its leaf-bud. There is a pleasure in the variety arising from harmonious combination applied to ornament, which could never be obtained to the same extent by the mere imitation of natural objects; and the custom of depending solely on the latter is the result of poverty of invention, and the refuge of a mind deficient in talent and taste Such was their perception of beauty that the Greeks at once saw it wherever it was to be found; and they presented the sentiment of it to the eye; thus relieving the spectator from the common-place inquiry about the exact representation of an object,—generally, too, in a position where it would have no right to be found. They did the same in copying from “the Barbarian;” and, when they perceived in any of his devices the germ of the beautiful, they adopted, or adapted, it; making it, with a small modification, what it was capable of being; and when, thus remodelled, it became their own.

And well might we in modern times imitate their example, instead of striving to make what is merely new, and thinking more of originality than excellence. It would be no discredit if we knew how to borrow and improve, like the Greeks; and when we can do this we may hope to have an object of taste recommended to us, not because it is the “newest,” but because it is the “best,” and to cease to be guided by fashion in our selection.

We have abundant proofs of the length of time that the same devices, and the same subjects, for decorative purposes, continued to be used by the Greeks. They remained favourites because they were elegant; and many of the fancy ornaments, in trinkets and furniture, continued the same also among the Egyptians for ages, who at the same time did not reject any novelty if worthy of adoption; and they even admitted many alterations, unknown to their ancestors, in the architecture of the temple and the tomb. But neither they nor the Greeks committed the error of preferring any work of taste because it was new, or not of native growth; and we who in England too often refuse due honour to “a prophet in his own country,” would do ourselves more credit by showing a full appreciation of the exquisite designs of a Flaxman, than by seeking some far inferior production of a foreign hand. To combine, like the Greeks, excellence in sculpture with decorative taste is the highest merit, and those who possess them both will know how to combine them for architectural purposes; but many people, and above all the Arabs, have shown how decorative art may be fully effective, even without the assistance of its more exalted companion. Who indeed can look at the endless variety and exquisite beauty of Saracenic ornaments without appreciating them? and the harmony produced by those combinations affords the same gratification to the eye, that music does to the ear.

It must, however, be allowed that the Egyptians did not always confine themselves to the mere imitation of natural objects for ornament, and their ceilings and cornices offer numerous graceful fancy devices; among which are the guilloche, miscalled Tuscan border, the chevron, and the scroll pattern. These are even met with in a tomb of the time of the 6th dynasty; they were therefore known in Egypt many ages before they were adopted by the Greeks; and the most complicated form of the guilloche covered a whole Egyptian ceiling, upwards of a thousand years before it was represented on those comparatively late objects found at Nineveh.

Not only the tomb and house, but all parts of the temple were coloured, both within and without; and this variety served as a relief to the otherwise sombre appearance of the massive straight walls of the exterior. Colour was an essential part of Egyptian architecture, and some of the mouldings and other details were made out solely by it, without any sculptured indication of them; as was often done on the monuments of Greece. The ceilings of Egyptian temples were painted blue and studded with stars, to represent the firmament (as in early European churches); and on the part over the central passage, through which the king and the religious processions passed, were vultures and other emblems; the winged globe always having its place over the doorways. The whole building, as well as its sphinxes and other accessories, were richly painted; and though a person unaccustomed to see the walls of a large building so decorated, might suppose the effect to be far from pleasing, no one who understands the harmony of colours will fail to admit that they perfectly understood their distribution and proper combinations, and that an Egyptian temple was greatly improved by the addition of painted sculptures.

The introduction of colour in architecture was not peculiar to the Egyptians; it was common to the Etruscans, and even to the Greeks; and the mention made of it by ancient authors is confirmed by its having been found on the monuments of Sicily and Greece.

In the temple of Theseus at Athens, vestiges of colours are seen on the ground of the frieze, on the figures themselves, and on the ornamental details. The Parthenon presents remains of painting on some members of the cornice; many coloured devices remain on the upper part of the walls in the interior; and the ground of the frieze, containing the reliefs of the Panathenaic procession, was blue. The Propylæa of the Acropolis and the Choragic monument of Lysicrates also offer traces of colour; as did the Ionic temple on the Ilissus; and vestiges of red, blue, and green, have been discovered on the metopes of a temple at Selinus in Sicily. In one of these, the figure of Minerva has the eyes and eyebrows painted; her drapery and the girdle of Perseus are also ornamented with coloured devices; and the whole ground of this, and of two other metopes, is red.

Red and blue seem to have been generally used for the ground; and these two, with green and yellow, were the principal colours introduced in Greek architecture, many members of which were also gilt, as the shields, guttæ, and other prominent details; but many suppose that the shafts of columns were always white, and that the coloured parts were confined to the entablature and pediment.

In Egyptian buildings, indeed, it sometimes happened, that the shafts of columns were merely covered with white stucco, without any ornament, and even without the usual line of hieroglyphics; and the same custom of coating certain kinds of stone with stucco was common in Greece. The Egyptians put this layer of stucco, or paint, over stone, whatever its quality might be; and we are surprised to find the beautiful granite of obelisks, and other monuments, concealed in a similar manner; but it was occasionally allowed to retain its own red hue, the sculptures being painted green, or sometimes blue, red, and other colours.

Whenever they employed sandstone, it was absolutely necessary to cover it with a surface of a smoother and less absorbent nature, to prevent the colour being too readily imbibed by so porous a stone; and a coat of calcareous composition was laid on before the paint was applied. When the subject was sculptured, either in relief or intaglio, the stone was coated, after the figures were cut, with the same substance, to receive the final colouring; and it had the additional advantage of enabling the artist to finish the figures and other objects, with a precision and delicacy in vain to be expected on the rough and absorbent surface of sandstone.

They sometimes coated the inside walls of a sanctuary, a tomb, or a house, with granite, or some other kind of stone, or stained them to imitate it; and the adytum of the temple of Osiris at Abydus was lined with oriental alabaster. They also used, for interiors of houses and tombs, the black and white tiles already mentioned (which were similar to those afterwards made by the Arabs and the Dutch); and cased the exterior of a limestone or sandstone building with granite; and a great portion of the third pyramid was covered with this “Ethiopian stone of various hues,” which still remains.

Their colours were principally blue, red, green, black, yellow, and white. The red was an earthy bole; the yellow an iron ochre; the green was a mixture of a little ochre with a pulverulent glass, made by vitrifying the oxides of copper and iron with sand and soda; the blue was a glass of like composition without the ochreous addition; the black was bone or ivory black; and the white a very pure chalk. They were mixed with water; and apparently a little gum to render them tenacious and adhesive. With the Egyptians the favourite combination of colour was red, blue, and green; when black was introduced, yellow was added to harmonise with it: and in like manner they sought for every hue its congenial companion. They also guarded against the false effect of two colours in juxtaposition, as of red and blue, by placing between them a narrow line of white or yellow. They had few mixed colours; though purple, pink, orange, and brown, are met with; and frequently on papyri. The blue, which is very brilliant, consists of fine particles of blue glass, and may be considered equivalent to our smalt; it seems to be the same that Vitruvius describes, which he supposes to have been first made at Alexandria; and it also agrees with the artificial kyanus of Theophrastus, invented in Egypt, which he says was laid on thicker than the native (or lapis lazzuli). The thickness of the blue on the ceilings in Belzoni’s tomb confirms his remark. The green is also a glass in powder, mixed with particles of colourless glass, to which it owes its brightness.

Gilding was employed in the decoration of some of the ornamental details of the building; and was laid on a purple ground, to give it greater richness; an instance of which may be seen in the larger temple at Kalabshee, in Nubia. It was sparingly employed, and not allowed to interfere, by an undue quantity, with the effect of the other colours; which they knew well how to introduce in their proper proportions; and such discords as light green and strawberry-and-cream were carefully avoided.

The Egyptians showed considerable taste in the judicious arrangement of colours for decorative purposes; they occasionally succeeded in form, as in the shapes of many of their vases, their furniture, and their ornaments; and they had still greater knowledge of proportion, so necessary for their gigantic monuments; but though they knew well how to give to their buildings the effect of grandeur, vastness, and durability, they had little idea of the beautiful; and were far behind the Greeks in the appreciation of form. It is, however, rare to find any people who combine colour, form, and proportion; and even the Greeks occasionally failed to attain perfection in their beautiful vases, some of which are faulty in the handles and the foot.

For knowledge of proportion no people in later times have equalled the Italians. It is most remarkable in their public buildings; where, though perfection of form may be sometimes wanting, the first impressions arising from harmony of proportion conceal the faults that afterwards become apparent to the eye; and show the importance of a thorough knowledge of it.

We are now making a laudable effort to disseminate taste among the whole community; the Great Exhibition of 1851 has, among other good effects, made people think a little more for themselves; and a revival of architecture, as well as of mediæval ornament, has directed the eye to better models than those of Georgian times. And as we have no prescribed rules like those of the Egyptians, and no Louis XIV. and XV. splendid monstrosities, to give us preconceived notions in favour of the utter decomposition of an outline, there is no reason and no excuse for taste not flourishing, and not pervading even those least alive to it.

But it is not by mere patronage of the great that art and taste are to be made to flourish in a country; all must be made sensible of the charm and the effect they produce; and the feeling for them must become general. Encouragement may be advantageously given, and their progress may be greatly advanced by such praiseworthy assistance; but for a people to attain to excellence in them, the masses, and particularly the middle classes, must learn how to appreciate what is good, and how to discountenance the bad. It was the general taste in Greece that made the arts flourish—they were intelligible to all; and many a column, or other portion of a public edifice, was raised at the combined expense of several poor subscribers. It is an error to suppose that the religion of Greece had peculiarly the tendency to encourage the fine arts. Christian story abounds in noble subjects, with many feelings of a far more exalted kind than those portrayed by the Greeks; and historical compositions are not confined to any one people, nor to any age. To make art and taste flourish and endure, they must be generally encouraged; and it is not to the grandees of any country, who condescendingly permit their names to appear at the head of a list of patrons, that these must trust; and to obtain any good result, the judgment of the public must be cultivated. It is vain for any artists or artisans to excel in painting, sculpture, or ornamental art, if the taste of the country is deficient, and if busts or portraits are more prized than fine statues or good historical compositions; and how often, when good works are produced in decorative art, is the talented inventor obliged to discontinue them, because he finds no encouragement! He “must live;” and he is, therefore, compelled to satisfy the demand of the purchasers, by making something more consonant with their bad taste.

It is, therefore, with great satisfaction that we now look forward to the effect of the schools of design, and the well-directed energies of those who have such important objects in view; and when taste becomes general, we shall cease to have committees sanctioning what is bad. Indeed, it might always be better to submit the selection of works of art to a single individual of sound judgment, who should be, and feel that he was, responsible, than to leave it to the doubtful decision of a number—some indifferent, some who never attend, some put there for their name alone, none individually responsible, and many glad to shift the blame or the trouble upon some very active member, who, often being the most busy, and tiresome in the inverse ratio of his talents, gets his own way in opposition to less assuming and more capable men.

Another great impediment to the extension of taste is the notion that beauty of design is only to be sought in expensive ornamental objects, and those connected with the arts; but so long as it is confined to them, and not introduced into all the ordinary utensils of common life, it will be possessed by few, and will be a sort of exotic plant. Beauty of form, and proportion, exquisite detail, and high finish, are found in the vases and commonest objects among the Greeks; they were afterwards prized by the Romans, and looked upon as rarities by them as by modern collectors; but among those who originated them they were appreciated by all. “Arts of production” must not be independent of the arts of design—they must go together; and as the commonest lamp, strainer, or other things used for ordinary purposes, were beautiful in Greece, so must they be with those who strive to arrive at similar refinement. It is not by making what is elegant dear to the purchaser that art and taste will flourish; this is an impediment, not an encouragement to them; and until the beautiful is within the reach of all, and appreciated by all, it is vain to hope for excellence in any country.

The sculptures of an Egyptian temple mostly represented the king making offerings to the Triad of the city, and to the principal deities worshipped there; the king’s name, who erected or enlarged the building, was frequently repeated in the dedications upon the architraves, as well as on the ornamental cornices, and other places; and as it was his right to make the offerings in the temple, he alone was represented pouring out libations, and making sacrifices before the gods. On the outer walls similar subjects were repeated; but in the large temples, especially of the capital, the chief places both of the outer and inner walls were occupied by battle scenes, representing the victories obtained by the monarch over the enemies of Egypt; and upon the great towers of the façade he was portrayed routing them in battle, or in the act of smiting the captive “Heads,” or “chiefs, of the Gentiles,” in the presence of the great deity of the place.

Among the peculiarities of Egyptian architecture, one of the most important is the studied avoidance of uniformity, in the arrangement of the columns, and many of the details. Of these some are evident to the eye, others are only intended to have an influence on the general effect, and are not perceptible without careful examination. Thus the capitals of the columns in the great hall at Karnak are at different heights, some extending lower down the shaft than others; evidently with a view to correct the sameness of symmetrical repetition, and to avoid fatiguing the sight with too much regularity. This is not to be perceived until the eye is brought on a level with the lower part of the capitals; and its object was only effect, like that of many curved lines introduced in a Greek temple, as at the Parthenon.

But the Egyptians often carried their dislike of uniformity to an extreme, beyond even what is justified by the study of variety. Where they avoided that extreme their motive was legitimate; and it is remarkable that they were the first people whose monuments offer instances of that diversity, which forms so essential a characteristic of Saracenic and Gothic architecture.

This feeling increased, rather than diminished, after the accession of the Ptolemies; and intercourse with the Greeks had not the effect of inducing the Egyptians to adopt any of the notions of symmetry, which prevailed in their monuments. Those therefore who imagine that the great, variety then in vogue, from the juxtaposition of columns of different orders, was introduced by the Ptolemies, attribute it to a very improbable cause; for if any change had been introduced by the Greeks, it would have been that of greater uniformity; and the arrangement of columns, each with a different capital in the same portico, is evidently the result of Egyptian taste. It shows the same progress which our decorated made from the more simple, but still varied, character of our early pointed style. The decorated and flamboyant each grew out of its predecessor; but no one looks for their origin in a different style of architecture; and in like manner the more ornamented column and the more varied arrangements of the details, in later Egyptian buildings, arose out of the old Egyptian style, and did not certainly proceed from the uniformity of Greek taste.

Our perpendicular style, though really derived from its varied predecessors, did undergo a change, and one that at last deprived it of the principal characteristic of the pointed style; it even admitted by degrees an incipient taste for greater uniformity (which about a century later Europe unequivocally welcomed back, by a return to classic architecture); and though it did not positively fraternise with the renaissance, it lost that great feature—variety, which peculiarly distinguished its Gothic parent. In one part overloaded with fretwork, in another with an endless repetition of monotonous lines, it strove to make rich what it ceased to make beautiful; and at last departed so far from the Gothic type, that one portion of a perpendicular edifice cast in metal might almost serve to construct the rest.

Egyptian architecture was at first simple, as was the Greek, and both had the severe fluted column, which as I have shown originated in the still more simple square pillar of an Egyptian quarry. The Greeks varied their style by the introduction of the Ionic, and a basket capital with leaves which by degrees took the form of the Corinthian; borrowing from the Ionic, and from the basket capital of Egypt, and varying the ornaments, as they had before modified the volutes; for these were also derived from the Egyptian columns attached to the canopies of the kings. But here the variety ended; or at least they did not go the length of the Egyptians in placing columns of different orders one by the other in the same portico. This was confined to the taste of Egyptian (and of the later Gothic) architects. And though the original Egyptian column was so simple, no foreign influence introduced the change: it was of native growth; and the water-plant and other columns, as I have already shown, date from the time of the earliest periods before the invasion of the Shepherds. Their formation too was consistent with the style of their decoration.

But while the architecture of the Egyptians and that of the Greeks had some points of resemblance in certain details, their general character was essentially distinct; and the Egyptian flat roof had a totally different effect from the pediment, or gable, of a Greek temple. The plans of their sacred buildings were also quite dissimilar, and the circular form of the early Greek tomb was unknown in Egypt. The Egyptians, too, a cautious people, made durability their chief object, and they never sought for that beauty, to which the Greeks were so successful in attaining. If certain nations, like individuals, are gifted with peculiar talents, none have been favoured with the same variety as the Greeks; and all their habits and feelings were eminently suited to the development of taste. Not so those of the Egyptians, who, independently of the restrictions imposed upon them, were deficient in the requisites for that purpose. They wanted the imaginative faculty of the Greeks; they thought chiefly of carrying out a particular object; and their speculative powers led to abstruse theories, not to the ideal conceptions required for excellence in art.

With regard to the pyramidal or sloping line in Egyptian buildings, it is scarcely necessary to say that its object was greater solidity; and its use is one of many arguments against the opinion that Egyptian temples had their origin in excavated monuments; for it is evident that the pyramidal line can neither be required, nor be consistently introduced, in the walls or a rock temple, and wherever the sloping line does occur there, it is merely in the ornamental mouldings, and is one more evidence of the imitation of a constructed monument. Another misconception, respecting Egyptian architecture, is that they began with large buildings because the mountains gave them the power of excavating to any depth, and extending the front to any length: which is disproved by the fact that the oldest sanctuaries were of very small dimensions; large monuments were erected before large rock temples were made; and the mere irregular quarry (opened solely to supply materials) did not bear any resemblance to the plan or general character of a temple. The attempt, too, to account for the use of large blocks, from the “facility of transport” in a level country, and the preference given by the Greeks to smaller or shorter architraves, from the difficulty of conveying them from the quarries in a hilly country, is equally unsatisfactory, and is far from being consistent with the positions of many early Greek temples, and with what may be observed in other countries, since we find that in the mountainous districts of Syria heavier blocks were used than in the temples of Egypt.

If the employment of large blocks were thus to be accounted for, it would be difficult to explain how the Syrians acquired the habit, or obtained the experience, which enabled them to move the enormous stones at Baalbek, far heavier than any in Egypt, being upwards of 60 feet long by 9 broad and 12 feet thick. Some stones in the walls of Jerusalem are more than 20 feet in length; and massive columns, of a single piece, were raised in temples on the mountain summits of Syria. It was therefore as common a practice to use large blocks in the mountainous Syria, as in the level Egypt; so that neither the great breadth of the Egyptian, nor the narrowness of Greek, or any other intercolumniations, can be accounted for by the facility, or difficulty, of transporting long blocks of stone to serve as architraves. Nor was size originally a condition in the edifices of the Egyptians. They began, as did the Greeks, with small monuments, which increased in scale with the increase of wealth and the advancement of art; and though as their taste was developed, the Egyptians preferred monuments of large size, the origin of this preference must not too hastily be attributed to the facility of transporting the blocks, nor even to the convenience of obtaining materials near at hand; since the granite quarries of Syene were upwards of 130 miles from Thebes, or five times as much from Memphis; and the monoliths of that material erected in the Delta were conveyed more than 800 miles. The same hasty conclusion has been made about the largest colossi being peculiar to Egypt. But that of Olympian Jove was 60 feet high; that of Apollo, mentioned by Pausanias, was 30 cubits, or 45 feet; and the colossus of Rhodes, measuring 105 feet, far exceeded any in Egypt.

The arch was employed in Egypt at a very early period; and crude brick arches were in common use in roofing tombs at least as early as Amunoph I., in the 16th century before our era. And since I first discovered one at Thebes bearing his name, others have been found of the age of Thothmes III. (his fourth successor) and of Remeses V. It even seems to have been known in the time of the 12th dynasty, judging from the representation of what appear to be vaulted granaries at Beni Hassan.

That it should have originated in a country where wood was rare is consistent with probability; and it has been conjectured that the chambers in the large brick pyramids near Memphis were arched. Those at Thebes, of a rather later period, were so roofed; nor is it unreasonable to suppose that in the other large ones they had the same construction; and the superiority over the stone pyramids, boasted in the inscription upon that of Asychis, has been supposed to consist in its vaulted chambers. It is also evident that in the time of Osirtasen the vaulted ceilings of rock-tombs were made in imitation of arches; and the arch seems to have been particularly used in sepulchral monuments.

The earliest stone arches are of the time of a Psammitichus, in the 7th century before our era. One of these is at Sakkára, but from the thin slabs of stone forming its roof, it is a far less satisfactory instance of the arch than some of those near the pyramids of Geezeh of the same date; though an arch being of stone is no stronger proof of its existence, than are those of brick at Thebes; which are on the same principle, the bricks (like the stones) radiating to a common centre. For it is not necessary that an arch should be of any particular material; nor does the principle of the arch depend on its having a keystone; and arches, both round and pointed, are found at all ages without it. The same is the case in Egypt, and the small chapels before the pyramids of Ethiopia have instances of round and pointed arches, with and without the keystone.

Numerous crude brick arches, of different dates, exist in Thebes, besides the small pyramids already alluded to, some of which are of very beautiful construction. The most remarkable are the doorways of the enclosures surrounding the tombs in the Assaseéf, which are composed of two or more concentric semicircles of brick, as well constructed as any of the present day. They are of the time of Psammitichus and other princes of the 26th dynasty, immediately before the invasion of Cambyses. All the bricks radiate to a common centre: they are occasionally pared off at the lower part, to allow for the curve of the arch, and sometimes the builders were contented to put in a piece of stone to fill up the increased space between the upper edges of the bricks. In those roofs of houses or tombs, which were made with less care, and required less solidity, the bricks were placed longitudinally, in the direction of the curve of the vault, and the lower ends were then cut away considerably, to allow for the greater opening between them; and many were grooved at the sides, in order to retain a greater quantity of mortar between their united surfaces.

Though the oldest stone arch, whose age has been positively ascertained, dates only in the time of the second Psammitichus, we cannot suppose that the use of stone was not adopted by the Egyptians, for that species of construction, previous to his reign; even if none of the arches of the pyramids in Ethiopia should prove to be anterior to his era. Nor does the absence of the arch in temples, and other large buildings, excite our surprise, when we consider the style of Egyptian monuments; and no one who understands the character of their architecture could wish for its introduction. In some of the small temples of the Oasis, the Romans attempted this innovation, but the appearance of the chambers so constricted fails to please; and the introduction of an imitation of the arch into a building at Abydus, bearing the name of Sethi, or Osirei, was owing to its being a sepulchral monument. Here the roof is formed of single blocks of stone reaching from one architrave to the other, which, instead of being placed in the usual manner, stand upon their edges, in order to allow room for hollowing out an arch in their thickness; but its effect is by no means good. (Woodcut 452, fig. 3.)

Like the Egyptians, the Greeks abstained from introducing the arch into their monuments, being unsuited to a style already formed;—an objection not felt by the Romans, who modified what they borrowed, so far as to adopt the arch, and break through the horizontal line of Greek architecture; thus establishing the first elements of the vertical of later times; and the great benefits conferred by the arch in covering large spaces, where crowded assemblies were to meet, are well demonstrated by a comparison of our churches, and the Great Hall of Karnak, with its forest of columns to support the roof. But the Greeks were not ignorant of the arch; instances of it still remain; and Posidonius claims its invention for Democritus, who was born B.C. 460. The arched tunnel of brick under the Euphrates at Babylon, mentioned by Diodorus, also shows that it was known at a remote age in other countries, as well as in Egypt. (See also Vignette N., end of Chap. VIII.)

Another imitation of the arch occurs in a building at Thebes. Here, however, a reason may perhaps be given for its introduction, in addition to its being a tomb, and not bound to accord with the ordinary rules of architecture laid down for Egyptian temples. The chambers lie under a friable rock, and are cased with masonry, to prevent the fall of its crumbling stone; but instead of being roofed on the principle of the arch, they are covered with a number of large blocks, placed horizontally, one projecting beyond that immediately below it, till the uppermost two meet in the centre, the interior angles being afterwards rounded off to form the appearance of a vault.

This building dates in the 15th century B.C., consequently many years after the Egyptians had been acquainted with the art of vaulting; and the reason of their preferring such a mode of construction probably arose from their calculating the great difficulty of repairing an injured arch in this position, and the consequences attending the decay of a single block; nor can any one suppose, from the great superincumbent weight applied to the haunches, that this style of building is devoid of strength, and of the usual durability of an Egyptian fabric, or pronounce it ill suited to the purpose for which it was erected.


452.              Fig. 1. Vaulted rooms and doorway of a crude brick pyramid at Thebes.

2. An imitation of an arch at Thebes.

3. Another at Abydus.

4. Mode of commencing a quarry.

This was either an imitation of an arch, or a method of older times used before its invention; and we have other instances, in Italy, of false and true arches being employed contemporaneously, by people well acquainted with the principle of forming voussoirs with stones radiating to a common centre.

The first deviation from the mode of roofing with flat stones was what is called the pent-shaped roof; formed by the application of two sets of stones, inclined towards each other, at an angle of about 100º, as over the entrance to the Great Pyramid and the roof of the Queen’s chamber. The next was when the space was covered over with slabs of small dimensions, each course projecting beyond the one below it, until the uppermost ones approached each other near enough for the remaining space to be covered by a single stone. These two, used at the same time in the Great Pyramid, were also employed by the early Greeks; and they may be considered the first steps towards the want, and invention, of the arch. And this seems to confirm the notion of the boasted superiority of the brick pyramid having consisted in supplying this desideratum. Bricks certainly led to its invention; and thus small materials have contributed to the greatest variety in construction at different periods:—witness groined arches, as well as long-and-short-work, opus incertum, round towers, and various peculiarities of brickwork. In the earliest arches, the bricks were placed lengthways towards each other; and not only many of the oldest tombs at Thebes have their roofs so constructed, but the stones forming the arches at the pyramids of Gebel Berkel are placed in the same manner. This, however, was afterwards abandoned; and the beautiful brick arches of the Assaseéf at Thebes resemble those of modern times.

The same longitudinal arrangement of the bricks again occurs in the pointed arches of the early Christians in Egypt; and they give evidence of being a first essay of a new principle. Doubtful as to the power of an arch of this form, they only used it at first to cover passages, and other small spaces; and many consisted only of 1, 2, or 3 very long bricks in height, with a portion of one placed between the two uppermost ones as a key. They are, however, remarkable from their antiquity, being about the 7th century of our era; and though a much older pointed arch is found at Gebel Berkel, as well as in Italy, and the pointed arch seems to be imitated in the time of the 18th dynasty, that style of building does not appear to have come into common use in the East much before the 9th century. But it was then very general, and though some dream of pointed arches having been invented in Europe, from the intersection of two round arches, we may be sure that the East gave us the first notion of the new principle; and that we derived it from the Saracens; as they composed their architecture from the Byzantine and Persian styles, and the earliest pointed architecture, if not the first pointed arches, should be looked for in Asia Minor, and about Constantinople. As the Greeks instructed the Romans, the Byzantine Christians worked for the Saracens, and gave them the first notions of a style, which they afterwards modified according to their views. The cupola introduced a new feature into the mosk, whose original simple courts, and small round arches, were humble imitations of Roman buildings; the golden mosaics of Byzantium, themselves descended from the “golden vaults” of Imperial Rome, decorated the walls and arched ceilings of Damascus houses, as they enriched the apses of Italian basilicas; and the Byzantine or Romanesque style spread its influence over Europe and the East. But the stream of taste was diversified according to the ground over which it flowed. As yet one general system was not acknowledged, as in later times when Gothic architecture was the same, with slight variations, throughout Europe; each people at first made their own selection, in the principles or the mouldings they imitated; in England the rude Saxon, with its long-and-short-work,—the common house construction even before the age of Justinian; the more decorated Norman; and the Italian Lombard style, were all indebted to the Roman and the Byzantine; and from the arrival of a fresh element from the East, itself of cognate origin, arose the pointed style of Western Europe. Such was the progress of architecture from the earliest times; each system borrowing, adopting, or recasting the component parts of its predecessor, according to the wants, climate, materials, or taste of the new country of its growth.

The most ancient buildings in Egypt were constructed of limestone, hewn from the mountains bordering the valley of the Nile to the East and West, extensive quarries of which may be seen at El Māsara, Nesleh Shekh Hassan, El Maabdeh, and other places; and that it was used long before sandstone is proved by the tombs of the pyramids, as well as those monuments themselves, and by the vestiges of old substructions and ruins in Upper Egypt. Limestone continued to be occasionally employed for building even after the accession of the 12th dynasty; but so soon as the durability of sandstone was ascertained, the quarries of Silsilis were opened, and those materials were universally adopted, and preferred for their even texture, and the ease with which they were wrought.

The extent of the quarries at Silsilis is very great; and it is not by the size and scale of the monuments of Upper Egypt alone that we are enabled to judge of the stupendous works executed by the ancient Egyptians; these would suffice to prove the character they bore, were the gigantic ruins of Thebes and other cities no longer in existence; and safely may we apply the expression, used by Pliny in speaking of the porphyry quarries, to those of Silsilis, “they are of such extent, that masses of any dimensions might be hewn from them.”

In opening a new quarry, when the stone could not be taken from the surface of the rock, and it was necessary to cut into the lower part of its perpendicular face, they pierced it with a horizontal shaft; beginning with a square trench, and then breaking away the stone left in the centre (as indicated in woodcut 452, fig. 4, by the space B), its height and breadth depending of course on the size of the stones required. They then cut the same around C, and so on to any extent in a horizontal direction, after which they extended the work downwards, in steps, taking away E, and leaving D for the present, and thus descending as far as they found convenient, or the stone continued good. They then returned, and cut away the steps D, F, and all the others, reducing each time one step in depth, till at last there remained at X a perpendicular wall; and when the quarries were of very great horizontal extent, pillars were left at intervals to support the roof.


453.              Removing a stone from the quarries of El Māsara.

In one of the quarries at El Māsara, the mode of transporting the stone is represented. It is placed on a sledge, drawn by oxen, and is supposed to be on its way to the inclined plane that led to the river; vestiges of which may still be seen a little to the south of the modern village.

Sometimes, and particularly when the blocks were large and ponderous, men were employed to drag them, and those condemned to hard labour in the quarries, as a punishment, were required to assist in moving a certain number of stones, according to the extent of their offence, ere they were liberated; which seems to be proved by this expression, “I have dragged 110 stones for the building of Isis at Philæ,” in an inscription at the quarries of Gertassy in Nubia. In order to keep an account of their progress, they frequently cut the initials of their name, or some private mark, with the number, on the rock whence the stone was taken, as soon as it was removed: thus, C. XXXII., PD. XXXIII.; PD. XXXIIII., and numerous other signs occur at the quarries of Fateereh.

All large blocks were taken from the quarry on sledges; and in a grotto behind E’Dayr, a Christian village between Antinoë and El Bersheh, is the representation of a colossus, which a number of men are employed in dragging with ropes—a subject doubly interesting from being of the early age of Osirtasen II., and one of the very few paintings which throw any light on the method employed by the Egyptians for moving weights.

It is not necessary that the colossus should have been hewn in the hill of El Bersheh; and this picture, though it refers to what really happened, may also represent one of the occupations of the Egyptians, like the trades, gardening-scenes, and other subjects. At all events the statue could not have been placed in the tomb, as some suppose, being too large for the doorway; and traces of it must have remained.

One hundred and seventy-two men, in four rows, of forty-three each, pull the ropes attached to the front of the sledge; and grease is poured from a vase by a person standing on the pedestal of the statue, in order to facilitate its progress as it slides over the ground, which was probably covered with a bed of planks, though they are not indicated in the painting. (See Frontispiece.)

Some of the persons employed in this laborious duty appear to be Egyptians, the others are foreign slaves, who are clad in the costume of their country; and behind are four rows of men, who, though only twelve in number, may be intended to represent the “superintendents,” and the set which relieved the others when fatigued.

Below are persons carrying vases of the liquid, or perhaps water, for the use of the workmen, and some implements connected with the transport of the statue, followed by taskmasters with their wands of office. On the knee of the figure stands a man who claps his hands to the measured cadence of a song, to mark the time and insure their simultaneous draught; for it is evident that, in order that the whole power might be applied at the same instant, a sign of this kind was necessary; and the custom of singing at their work was usual in every occupation of the Egyptians, as it now is in that country, in India, and many other places. Nor is it found a disadvantage among the modern sailors of Europe, when engaged in pulling a rope, or in any labour which requires a simultaneous effort. Above are seven companies of soldiers, unarmed, holding green twigs in their hands.

The height of the statue was 13 cubits, 19½ ft., or really 22 ft. 2½ in.; and of lime, or freestone; as the colour and the hieroglyphics inform us. It was bound to the sledge by double ropes, which were tightened by means of long pegs inserted between them, and twisted round until completely braced; and, to prevent injury from the friction of the ropes, a compress of leather, lead, or other substance, was introduced at the part where they touched the statue.

It is singular that the position of the ring to which all the ropes were attached for moving the mass was confined to one place at the front of the statue, and did not extend to the back part of the sledge; but this was owing to the shortness of the body; and, when of great length, it is probable that ropes were fixed at intervals along the sides, in order to give an opportunity of applying a greater moving power. For this purpose, in blocks of very great length (as the columns at Fateereh, which are about 60 ft. long, and 8½ ft. in diameter), certain pieces of stone were left projecting from the sides, like the trunnions of a gun, to which several ropes were attached, each pulled by its own set of men.

Small blocks of stone were sent from the quarries by water to their different places of destination in boats, or rafts; and if any land-carriage-was required, they were placed on sledges and rollers; but those of very large dimensions were dragged the whole way by men, overland, in the manner here represented. The immense weight of some shows that the Egyptians were well acquainted with mechanical powers, and the mode of applying a locomotive force with the most wonderful success; and the use of grease for large weights in preference to rollers is consistent with modern experience.

The obelisks transported from the quarries of Syene, at the first cataracts, in latitude 24º 5´ 23″, to Thebes and Heliopolis, vary in size from seventy to ninety-three feet in length. They are of one single stone; and the largest in Egypt, which is that of the great temple at Karnak, I calculate to weigh about 297 tons. This was brought about 138 miles from the quarry to where it now stands, and those taken to Heliopolis passed over a space of more than 800 miles. The power, however, to move the mass was the same, whatever might be the distance, and the mechanical skill which transported it five, or even one, would suffice for any number of miles.

In examining the ruins of western Thebes, and reading the statements of ancient writers regarding the stupendous masses of granite conveyed by this people for several hundred miles, our surprise is greatly increased. We find in the plain of Ḳoorneh two colossi of Amunoph III., of a single block each, forty-seven feet in height, which contain about 11,500 cubic feet, and are made of a stone not known within several days’ journey of the place; and at the Memnonium, is another of Remeses II., which when entire weighed upwards of 887 tons, and was brought from A´Sooán to Thebes, a distance, as before stated, of more than 130 miles. This is certainly a surprising weight, and we cannot readily suggest the means adopted for its transport, or its passage of the river; but the monolithic temple, said by Herodotus to have been taken from Elephantine to Buto, in the Delta, was still larger, and far surpassed in weight the pedestal of Peter the Great’s statue at St. Petersburgh, which last is calculated at about 1200 tons.

He also mentions a monolith at Saïs, of which he gives the following account:—“What I admire still more, is a monument of a single block of stone, which Amasis transported from the city of Elephantine. Two thousand men, of the class of boatmen, were employed to bring it, and were occupied three years in this arduous task. The exterior length is twenty-one cubits (31½ ft.); the breadth fourteen (21 ft.); and the height eight (12 ft.); and, within, it measures eighteen cubits twenty digits (28 ft. 3 in.) in length; twelve (18 ft.) in breadth; and five (7½ ft.) in height. It lies near the entrance of the temple, not having been admitted into the building, in consequence, as they say, of the engineer, while superintending the operation of dragging it forward, having sighed aloud, as if exhausted with fatigue, and impatient of the time it had occupied; which being looked upon by Amasis as a bad omen, he forbade its being taken any further. Some, however, state that it was in consequence of a man having been crushed beneath it, while moving it with levers.”

Herodotus’s measurement is given as it lay on the ground; his length is properly its height, and his height the depth, from the front to the back; for, judging from the usual form of these monolithic monuments, it was doubtless like that of the same king at Tel-et-Mai, the dimensions of which are 21 ft. 9 in. high, 13 ft. broad, and 11 ft. 7 in. deep; and internally 19 ft. 3 in., 8 ft., and 8 ft. 3 in.

The weight of the Saïte monolith cannot certainly be compared to that of the colossus of Remeses; but when we calculate the solid contents of the temple of Latona at Buto, our astonishment is unbounded; and we are perplexed to account for the means employed to move a mass which, supposing the walls to have been only 6 ft. thick (for Herodotus merely gives the external measurement of forty cubits, or 60 ft. in height, breadth, and thickness), must have weighed upwards of 6000, or at the lowest computation of 5000 tons.

The skill of the Egyptians was not confined to the mere moving of immense weights; their wonderful knowledge of mechanism is shown in the erection of obelisks, and in the position of large stones, raised to a considerable height, and adjusted with the utmost precision; sometimes, too, in situations where the space will not admit the introduction of the inclined plane. Some of the most remarkable are the lintels and roofing stones of the large temples; and the lofty doorway leading into the grand hall of assembly, at Karnak, is covered with sandstone blocks, 40 ft. 10 in. long., and 5 ft. 2 in. square.

In one of the quarries at A´Sooán (Syene) is a granite obelisk, which, never having been finished or separated from the rock, remains in its original place. The depth of the quarry is so small, and the entrance to it so narrow, that it would have been impossible for them to turn the stone, in order to remove it by that opening; they had therefore to lift it out of the hollow in which it had been cut; and this was the case with all the other shafts previously hewn in the same quarry. Such instances as these suffice to prove the wonderful mechanical knowledge of the Egyptians; and we may question whether our engineers could raise weights with the same facility, without using some of those modern appliances, which were quite unknown to that ancient people.

Pliny mentions several obelisks of very large dimensions, some of which were removed to Rome, where they now stand.

The Egyptians naturally looked on those monuments with feelings of veneration, being connected with their religion, and the glorious memory of their monarchs; and at the same time perceived that, in buildings constructed as their temples were, the monotony of numerous horizontal lines required a relief of this kind; but the same feelings cannot influence others, and few motives can be assigned for their removal to Europe, beyond the desire of possessing what requires great difficulty to obtain.

I will not pretend to say that the ancient Romans committed the same strange outrage to taste as their modern successors, who have destroyed the effect of the most graceful part of these monuments, by crowning the apex, which should of course terminate in a point, with stars, rays, or other whimsical additions; and, however habit may have reconciled the eye to such a monstrosity, every one who understands the beauty of form, and the harmony of lines, must observe and regret the incongruity of balls and weather-cocks on our own spires.

Pliny says, that the first Egyptian king who erected an obelisk was Mitres, who held his court at Heliopolis, the city of the Sun, to whom they were there dedicated; as to Amun at Thebes. Many others were raised by different monarchs, and “Ramises” made one 99 feet in height, “on which he employed 20,000 workmen.” “And, fearing lest the engineer should not take sufficient care to proportion the power of the machinery to the weight he had to raise, he ordered his own son to be bound to the apex, more effectually to guarantee the safety of the monument.”

The same writer describes a method of transporting obelisks from the quarries down the river, by lashing two flat-bottomed boats together, side by side, which were admitted into a trench, cut from the Nile to the place where the stone lay, laden with a quantity of ballast exactly equal to the weight of the obelisk; which, so soon as they had been introduced beneath the transverse block, was all taken out; and the boats rising, as they were lightened, bore away the obelisk in lieu of their previous burden. But we are uncertain if this method was adopted by the Egyptians; and though he mentions it as the invention of one Phœnix, he fails to inform us at what period he lived.

No insight is given into the secrets of their mechanical knowledge, from the sculptures, or paintings of the tombs, though so many subjects are there introduced. Our information, connected with this point, is confined to the use of levers, and a sort of crane; which last is mentioned by Herodotus, in describing the mode of raising the stones from one tier to another, when they built the Pyramids. He says it was made of short pieces of wood;—an indefinite expression, conveying no notion either of its form or principle;—and every stone was raised to the succeeding tier by a different machine.

Diodorus tells us, that machines were not invented at that early period, and that the stone was raised by mounds or inclined planes; but we may be excused for doubting his assertion, and thus be relieved from the effort of imagining an inclined plane five hundred feet in perpendicular height, with a proportionate base.

Whatever may have been the means employed, they evidently had acquired great facility in moving large blocks; and this was often a temptation to a later king to appropriate the monuments of a predecessor in embellishing a temple. Thus Tirhakah took the two lions of Amunoph III. from Soleb (the name of which place they bear) to Gebel Birkel; which was an easy task, when obelisks were transplanted from Memphis and Heliopolis to Alexandria, and afterwards to Rome; and Amunoph’s lions have at last found a place in the British Museum.


454.              Part 1. levelling, and Part 2. squaring a stone. Thebes.

Figs. 2, 4, 6, are using the chisel and mallet.

It is true, that the occupations of the mason and the statuary are sometimes alluded to in the paintings; the former, however, are almost confined to the levelling or squaring a stone, and the use of the chisel. Some are represented polishing and painting statues of men, sphinxes, and small figures; and two instances occur of large granite colossi, surrounded with scaffolding, on which men are engaged in chiselling and polishing the stone; the painter following the sculptor to colour the hieroglyphics he had engraved at the back of the statue. (Woodcut 455, fig. 2.)


455.              Large sitting colossus of granite, which they are polishing.


456.              Standing figure of a king, and, like the former, painted to represent granite.

Figs. 4, 6, are polishing it; and figs. 2 and 3 painting and sculpturing the hieroglyphics at the back. Thebes.

The usual mode of cutting large blocks from the quarries was by a number of metal wedges, which were struck at the same instant along its whole length; sometimes, however, they seem to have been of highly dried wood, which, being driven into holes previously cut for them by a chisel, and then saturated with water, split the stone by their expansion; and the troughs frequently found along the whole line of the holes, where the wedges were inserted, argue strongly in favour of this opinion.

Such a method could only be adopted when the wedges were in an horizontal position, upon the upper surface of the stone; but those put into the sides were impelled by the hammer only.

To separate the lower part of a ponderous mass from the rock, we may suppose they cut under it, leaving long pieces here and there to support it, like beams, which traversed its whole depth from the front to the back; and then having introduced wooden rafters into the open spaces which were cleared away, they removed the remainder of the stone, and the block rested on the wood. This was also the process in the quarry at Baalbek.

Some have imagined that they used the same means now practised in India, of lighting a fire along the whole length of the mass, in the direction where they intended it should split; and then pouring water upon it, cracked the stone in that part by its sudden action: but this is very doubtful, and the presence of the holes for the wedges sufficiently proves the method they usually employed.

Among the remarkable inventions of a remote era among the Egyptians, may be mentioned bellows and siphons. The former were used at least as early as the reign of Thothmes III., being represented in a tomb bearing the name of that Pharaoh. They consisted of a leather bag, secured and fitted into a frame, from which a long pipe extended for carrying the wind to the fire. They were worked by the feet, the operator standing upon them, with one under each foot, and pressing them alternately, while he pulled up each exhausted skin with a string he held in his hand. In one instance we observe from the painting, that when the man left the bellows, they were raised, as if full of air; and this would imply a knowledge of the valve. (Woodcut 457, k, o)


457.              Bellows. Thebes.

a, b, k, o, the leather case. c, e, l, n, the pipes conveying the wind to the fire. d, m, the fire.

h, q, charcoal. k and o are raised as if full of air.

It is uncertain when bellows were first invented; the earliest contrivance of this kind was probably a mere reed or pipe, which we find used by goldsmiths in the age of Osirtasen, and also at a late period, after the invention of bellows; and the tubes of these last appear even in the time of Thothmes III. to have been simply of reed, tipped with a metal point, to resist the action of the fire.

The first step was to add the sack containing the air; and various improvements succeeded each other in the form and principle of the bellows: there are, however, no means of ascertaining the period when they assumed their present form; and the merit of the late invention of wooden bellows is still disputed. Strabo ascribes the bellows to Anacharsis, but with the evident conviction that these (the double anchor), and the potter’s wheel, were of an age far anterior to the Scythian philosopher, which is fully proved by the paintings of Thebes.

The ordinary hand-bellows now used for small fires in Egypt are a sort of bag made of the skin of a kid, with an opening at one end (like the mouth of a common carpet bag), where the skin is sewed upon two pieces of wood; and these being pulled apart by the hands, and closed again, the bag is pressed down, and the air thus forced through the pipe at the other end. It is, perhaps, an ancient invention, but I find no indication of it in the paintings.

The bellows with sides of wood, made at the present day, are a more perfect construction than these last, or the foot-bellows of the time of Thothmes. They are supposed to have been known to the Greeks, though I confess, the

“———taurinis follibus auras

Accipiunt redduntque”

of Virgil is rather calculated to convey the idea of bellows made of ox leather without wooden sides.

Siphons are shown to have been invented in Egypt, at least as early as the reign of Amunoph II. in the 15th century before our era; and they again occur in the paintings of the third Remeses. In a tomb at Thebes, bearing the name of Amunoph, their use is unequivocally pointed out, by one priest pouring a liquid into some vases, and the other drawing it off, by applying the siphon to his mouth, and thence to a large vase; and it is not improbable that they owed their invention to the necessity of allowing the Nile water to deposit its thick sediment in vases, which could not be moved without again rendering it turbid, whether by inclining the vessel, or dipping a cup into it with the hand. They seem to be of a pliant material, from their bending (at f and perhaps at g, in Woodcut 458).


458.              Siphons used about the year 1430 B.C. Thebes.

1 Pours a liquid into vases from the cup b; and 2 draws it off by the siphons a.

Julius Pollux says they were used for tasting wine; and Heron of Alexandria, the first writer of consequence who mentions them, and who lived under Ptolemy Euergetes II., shows them to have been employed as hydraulic machines on a grand scale, for draining lands, or conveying water over a hill from one valley to another. Their name, siphon, is evidently oriental, and derived from the word siph or sif, to “imbibe,” or “draw up with the breath,” analogous to, and perhaps the origin of, our own expression “to sip.” They had also invented the syringe, used for injecting liquids into the head and body of mummies during the embalming process; and an instrument is often represented in the sculptures of early times, which has the appearance of a portable pump.

Respecting the numerous inventions of the Egyptians little information is to be obtained; but I have mentioned their skill in cutting hard stones, and various branches of art; and we may conclude they tested gold by a stone. And if they applied the name Bashan, or Basan (whence basanos), to a basaltic stone on which gold makes no mark (nor does it on that of the “Basanite mountain”), this was probably because it included all basalts; some of which test gold as well as our basanite,—a slate to which the name has since been transferred, and confined.

I have also shown that Herodotus, and others, ascribe the origin of geometry to the Egyptians; but the period when it commenced is uncertain. Anticlides pretends that Mœris was the first to lay down the elements of that science, which he says was perfected by Pythagoras; but the latter observation is merely the result of the vanity of the Greeks, which claimed for their countrymen (as in the case of Thales, and other instances) the credit of enlightening a people on the very subjects which they had visited Egypt for the purpose of studying.

The discovery of the pole, the sundial, and the division of the day into twelve hours, are said by Herodotus to have been derived by the Greeks from the Babylonians. Of the two former we have no indication in the sculptures to prove the epoch when they were known in Egypt; but there is reason to believe that the day and night were divided, each into twelve hours, by the Egyptians, some centuries before that idea could have been imparted to the Greeks from Babylon.

Sufficient data cannot, of course, be expected from the sculptures of the tombs, and the accidental introduction of their occupations, to enable us to form an accurate opinion respecting the extent of their knowledge, the variety of their inventions, or the skill of their workmen in different branches of art. The objects buried with the dead were frequently mere models of those they used; and the pains taken in making them depended on the sums expended by the friends of the deceased after his death. It was left to their good intentions or their superstitious feelings to decide of what quality they should be, or what labour should be bestowed upon them; and if the kind regards of a friend frequently induced some to incur considerable expense in providing such objects, many, on the other hand, were less scrupulous in the last duties to their departed relative. The former purchased ornaments of the most costly materials, as agate, basalt, granite, alabaster, onyx, jasper, gold, and precious stones; the latter were contented with common porcelain, wax, limestone, or wood. But even the best which have been found in the tombs, are evidently of inferior quality; and, like their vases and chairs, none have been discovered equal in beauty to those represented in the paintings, with the exception of a few rings and some female ornaments, which had been actually worn by the deceased.

The paintings, again, indicate a very small portion of their inventions: many, with which we know they were acquainted, are omitted; and the same remark applies to some of their most common occupations, to the animals they kept, and to the ordinary productions of their country. No exact notion can even be formed of their costume and the dresses of various grades, either among men or women, though so frequently represented, partly owing to their conventional style of drawing figures, partly to their want of skill in depicting drapery; it is, therefore, only the most simple portion of their dress which can be understood.

Ordinary workmen, and indeed all the lower orders, were clad in a sort of apron, or kelt, sometimes simply bound round the loins, and lapping over in front and others had short drawers, extending half way to the knee. The same kind of apron was worn by the higher orders, under an ample dress of fine linen reaching to the ankles, and provided with large sleeves. The apron was generally fastened by a girdle, or by a sort of sash, tied in front in a bow or knot|: it was sometimes folded over, with a centre-piece falling down in front, beneath the part where it overlapped; and some of the poor classes, while engaged in laborious occupations, were contented with a roll of linen passed between the legs from the back to the front of the girdle. This last is frequently used at the present day by the peasants, when drawing water by the shadoof; some of whom are satisfied with a few leaves, in Adam-like, or in River-God, simplicity.

Herodotus mentions some Egyptian dresses, which he describes of linen, with a fringe on the border around the legs, called calasiris; over which they wore a cloak of white wool, similar, no doubt, to the bornous of the present day, so common in Egypt and the coast of Barbary. (See above, p. 91, and vol. i., p. 333.)


459.              Men’s dresses. 13 a shirt from the work of Prof. Rosellini.

The same custom of edging their dresses with fringes was common to the Israelites, who were ordered to make them “in the borders of their garments;” “a blue riband” being “put upon the fringe;” and, as already observed, they were only the ends of the threads composing the woof, left in order to prevent the cloth unravelling; the blue riband added by the Israelites being intended to strengthen it, and prevent its tearing. These fringed dresses are occasionally represented in the paintings; and pieces of cloth have been found with the same kind of border; which in some instances has been sewed on.

Some people wore a sort of shirt with loose or light sleeves, open at the neck, where it was tied with strings; and except that it was linen, instead of wool, it was not unlike the bisht of the modern inhabitants of Upper Egypt.

The dresses of the priests, which excepting those of ceremony were much the same as of other persons of rank, have been already mentioned; as well as the goeffreying process, by which the folds or waving lines were impressed upon the fine linen they wore.

The princes wore a dress very like that of the sacred scribe, the apron wound round the body, and divided into three different folds, over which was a garment with large sleeves; but their distinguishing mark was a peculiar badge at the side of the head, descending to the shoulder, and frequently adorned and terminated with a gold fringe. This, I suppose to have contained the lock of hair, indicative of youth, which is seen in the statues of Harpocrates, and frequently represented on the heads of children; as I have already shown.

The robes of the sovereign varied, of course, according to his immediate occupation. When engaged as high-priest, they much resembled those worn by the principal functionaries of the sacerdotal order, with the exception of the apron and head-dress, which were of peculiar form, and belonged exclusively to his rank as king.

This apron was richly ornamented in front with lions’ heads, and other devices, probably of coloured leather; and the border was frequently formed of a row of asps, the emblems of royalty. Sometimes the royal name, with an asp on each side, as supporters, was embroidered upon it, the upper part being divided into square compartments of different colours; but it is not improbable, that this formed an appendage to the girdle, rather than to the apron; and several straps falling down at the side of the centre-piece show that it was tied in front, and came over the folds of the apron, and even of the upper robes.


460.              Dress of the king.

2, 3, the king’s apron. 3, is from a statue of Amunoph III. in the museum at Alnwick Castle. 4, wreath of the crown of Sabaco’s statue at the Isle of Argo.

The head-dress of the king, on state occasions, was the crown of the Upper or of the Lower country, or the pshent, the union of the two. Every king, after the sovereignty of the Thebaïd and Lower Egypt had become once more vested in the same person, put on this double crown at his coronation; and we find in the grand representation given of this ceremony at Medeenet Haboo, that the principal feature of the proclamation, on his ascension to the throne was the announcement to the four sides of the world, that “Remeses had put on the crown of the Upper and Lower country.” (See crowns and head-dresses in Woodcut 461.)

He even wore his crown during the heat of battle; sometimes merely a wig; but a helmet made apparently of woollen stuff with a thick nap, not very unlike the modern Persian cap, was generally preferred; and, in religious ceremonies, he put on a striped head-dress, probably of linen, which descended in front over the breast, and terminated behind in a sort of queue bound with riband. This last is the one generally worn by sphinxes; which were emblems of the king.

When crowned, the king invariably put on the two crowns at the same time, though on other occasions he was permitted to wear each separately, whether in the temple, the city, or the field of battle: and he even appeared in his helmet during the ceremonies in honour of the gods. On some occasions he wore a short wig, on which a band was fastened, ornamented with an asp, the emblem of royalty.

It may appear singular that so warm a covering to the head should have been adopted in the climate of Egypt; but when we recollect that they always shaved the head, and that the reticulated texture of the groundwork, on which the hair was fastened, allowed the heat of the head to escape, while the hair effectually protected it from the sun, it is evident that no better covering could have been devised, and that it far surpassed in comfort and coolness the modern turban; which is always found by those who are in the habit of wearing it to be very agreeable in hot weather, provided all the particulars are attended to, which the Turks find so essential, but which those Europeans who merely put it on for effect, too often neglect.

The upper portion of the wig was frequently made with curled, and not with plaited hair, this last being confined to the sides and lower part, as is the case in the wigs preserved in the British and Berlin museums; but the whole was sometimes composed of a succession of plaits, commencing from the centre of the crown, extending downwards, and increasing in length towards the bottom. Some smaller wigs, worn by persons of rank, consisted of short locks of equal length, arranged in uniform lines; imitations of which appear to have been made in woollen or other stuffs, under the denomination of false wigs, for the use of those who could not afford the more expensive quality of real hair.


461.              Head-dresses.

1, a close cap. 2, 3, 4, 5, wigs. 6, the crown Pshent of the Upper and Lower country, or 9 and 8 united. 10 to 14, royal head-dresses. 15, beard of a god. 17, of a king. 16, of a private individual of rank.

Wigs were worn both within the house and out of doors, like the turban of the present day; and a priest might even officiate on some occasions in his wig. At parties, the head-dress of every guest was bound with a chaplet of flowers, and ointment was put upon the top of the wig, as if it had really been the hair of the head; and one instance occurs of a wreath of leaves placed round the crown of a king, on a statue in the Isle of Argo, in Ethiopia, precisely similar to those worn by the Romans. (Woodcut 460, fig. 4.)


462.              Front and back of an Egyptian wig in the British Museum.

              3, shows the appearance of the long plaits, a, a.

The Egyptians, says Herodotus, “only let the hair of their head and beard grow in mourning, being at all other times shaved;” which agrees perfectly with the authority of the sculptures, and of the Bible, where Joseph is said to have “shaved himself,” when sent for from prison by Pharaoh. So particular, indeed, were they on this point, that to have neglected it was a subject of reproach and ridicule; and whenever they intended to convey the idea of a man of low condition, or a slovenly person, the artists represented him with a beard. It is amusing to find that their love of caricature was not confined to the lower orders, but extended even to the king: and the negligent habits of Remeses VII. are indicated in his tomb at Thebes, by the appearance of his chin, blackened by an unshorn beard of two or three days’ growth. But it was likewise given as the test of hardships undergone in a severe campaign; and the warlike character of Remeses the Great is pointed out in the same manner.


463.              Wig about 2½ feet in length, seen in front. Berlin Museum.

The Egyptians did not confine the privilege of shaving to freeborn citizens, like the Romans, who obliged slaves to wear their beards and hair long, and only permitted them the use of a cap after they had been enfranchised: and though foreigners, who were brought to Egypt as slaves, had beards on their arrival in the country, we find that so soon as they were employed in the service of this civilised people, they were obliged to conform to the cleanly habits of their masters; their beard and heads were shaved; and they adopted a close cap.

The priests were remarkable for their love of cleanliness, which was carried so far, that they shaved the whole body every three days, and performed frequent daily ablutions, bathing twice a day and twice during the night. It was not confined to their order; every Egyptian prided himself on the encouragement of habits, which it was considered a disgrace to neglect: we can, therefore, readily account for the disgust they felt on seeing the squalid appearance and unrefined habits of their Asiatic neighbours, whose long beards were often the subject of ridicule to the Egyptian soldier; and for their abhorrence of the bearded and long-haired Greeks; which was so great, that, according to Herodotus, “no Egyptian of either sex would on any account kiss the lips of a Greek, make use of his knife, his spit and cauldron, or taste the meat of an animal which had been slaughtered by his hand.” The same habits of cleanliness are also indicated by the “changes of raiment” given by Joseph to his brethren, when they set out to fetch their father to Egypt.

Barbers may be considered the offspring of civilisation; and as a Roman youth, when arrived at the age of manhood, cut off his beard, and consecrated it to some deity, as a token of his having emerged from a state of childhood, so a people, until they have adopted the custom of shaving, may be supposed to retain a remnant of their early barbarism.

With the Egyptians it was customary to shave the heads even of young children, leaving only certain locks at the front, sides, and back; and those of the lower classes were allowed to go out in the sun with the head exposed, without the protection of a cap; which is the reason assigned by Herodotus for the hardness of the Egyptian skulls, compared with those of other people. “I became acquainted,” says the historian, “with a remarkable fact, which was pointed out to me by the people living in the neighbourhood of the field of battle, where the Egyptians and the army of Cambyses fought; the bones of the killed being still scattered about, those of the Persians on one side, and of the Egyptians on the other. I observed that the skulls of the former were so soft, that you could perforate them with a small pebble; while those of the latter were so strong, that with difficulty you could break them with a large stone. The reason of which, as they told me, and I can readily believe it, is that, the Egyptians being in the habit of shaving their heads from early youth, the bone becomes thickened: and hence, too, they are never bald; for, certainly, of all countries, nowhere do you see fewer bald people than in Egypt. The Persians, on the contrary, have soft skulls, in consequence of their keeping the head covered from the sun, and enveloped in soft caps. I also observed the same of those who were killed in the battle between Achæmenes and Inarus the Libyan.”

It was usual for the lower orders to work in the sun without any covering to the head, as the modern peasants of Egypt, who appear (fortunately) to inherit from their predecessors skulls of uncommon hardness; and we see the same class of persons represented in the paintings with and without a cap, whether in the house or in the open field.

Persons of all classes occasionally wore caps, some of which were large, others fitting tight to the head; but these last were considered far less becoming than the wig, and suited rather to the lower orders than to persons of rank. “Women always wore their own hair, and they were not shaved even in mourning, or after death.

The use of wigs was not confined to the Egyptians of all people of antiquity; the Romans, under the emperors, also adopted a sort of peruke, called capillamentum or galerus, though it seems rather to have been worn by women than men; and Juvenal describes Messalina putting on a wig of flaxen hair to conceal her own black locks, when she left the palace in disguise.

The most singular custom of the Egyptians was that of tying a false beard upon the chin, which was made of plaited hair, and of a peculiar form, according to the person by whom it was worn. Private individuals had a small beard, scarcely two inches long; that of a king was of considerable length, square at the bottom; and the figures of gods were distinguished by its turning up at the end. No man ventured to assume, or affix to his image, the beard of a deity; but after their death, it was permitted to substitute this divine emblem on the statues of kings, and all other persons who were judged worthy of admittance to the Elysium of futurity; in consequence of their having assumed the character of Osiris, to whom the souls of the pure returned, on quitting their earthly abode. The form of the beard, therefore, readily distinguishes the figures of gods and kings, in the sacred subjects of the temples; and the allegorical connexion between the sphinx and the monarch is pointed out by its having the kingly beard, as well as the crown, and other symbols of royalty.

This title of “Osiris” seems, in the oldest times, to have been confined to the deceased kings (as Mr. Birch has observed); and it was only on, or a little before, the accession of the 18th dynasty, that it was given to “goodmen” of all ranks, at their death.

The dresses of children of the lower classes were very simple; and as Diodorus informs us, the expenses incurred in feeding and clothing them amounted to a mere trifle. “They feed them,” he says, “very lightly, and at an incredibly small cost; … and since most of them are brought up, on account of the mildness of the climate, without shoes, and, indeed, without any other clothing, the whole expense incurred by the parents does not exceed 20 drachmæ (13 shillings) each; and this frugality is the true reason of the populousness of Egypt.” But the children of the higher orders were often dressed like grown persons, with a loose robe, reaching to the ankles, and sandals.

Infants do not appear to have been swaddled, as among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans. When too young to walk, if taken out by a mother or nurse, they were carried in a shawl, suspended at her back, or before her; a custom still retained by the women of the Moghrebin Arabs; and in Ethiopia they were carried in baskets, supported at the mother’s back by a band passing over her forehead.


464.              Women carrying their children in a funeral procession. Thebes.

Sometimes, though nearly or entirely naked, the neck of an Egyptian child was decorated with a string of beads; and occasionally a bulla, or charm, was suspended in the centre, representing the symbol of truth and justice, which has been supposed also to indicate the heart, and is usually found in the balance of the judgment scenes, as a representative of the good works of the deceased. A bulla of this kind was worn by the youthful deity Harpocrates.

It was probably of gold, or hard stone, like those of the Romans; and others worn by the poorer classes, as at Rome, and in modern Egypt, were of leather. They were supposed to prompt the wearer to virtue and wisdom, to keep off the evil eye or to avert misfortune; and superstition induced many to appeal to them in danger, and derive from them omens of forthcoming events. Sometimes a charm consisted of a written piece of papyrus tightly rolled up, and sewed into a covering of linen, or other substance, several of which have been found at Thebes; and emblems of various deities were appended to necklaces for the same purpose.

Ladies and men of rank paid great attention to the beauty of their sandals: but on some occasions those of the middle classes who were in the habit of wearing them, preferred walking barefooted; and in religious ceremonies, the priests frequently took them off, while performing their duties in the temple.

The sandals varied slightly in form; those worn by the upper classes, and by women, were usually pointed and turned up at the end, like our skaits, and many Eastern slippers of the present day. Some had a sharp flat point, others were nearly round. They were made of a sort of woven, or interlaced work, of palm leaves and papyrus stalks, or other similar materials; sometimes of leather; and were frequently lined within with cloth, on which the figure of a captive was painted that humiliating position being considered suited to the enemies of their country, whom they hated and despised—an idea agreeing perfectly with the expression which so often occurs in the hieroglyphic legends, accompanying a king’s name, when his valour and victories are recorded on the sculptures: “You have trodden the impure Gentiles under your powerful feet.”


465.              Sandals. Berlin Museum.

1, From the sculptures.

2, In the Berlin Museum; made of the papyrus.

3, Figure of a captive on the sole.


466.              Sandals and shoes found in Egypt.

1, 2, 3. Shoes of green leather, probably of Greek time. Mr. Salt’s Collection.

4, 5. Upper and lower side of a pair of sandals, made of palm leaves and the papyrus, 11 inches long and 3 board. In the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

6. Sole of a sandal, 1 foot long and 3¾ inches broad. Alnwick Castle.

7. A sandal; and 8. A sandal with sides like a shoe. Both in the Berlin Collection.

Shoes, or low boots, were also common in Egypt, many having been found at Thebes; but these I believe to have been of late date, and to have belonged to Greeks; for, since no persona are represented in the paintings wearing them, except foreigners, we may conclude they were not adopted by the Egyptians, at least in a Pharaonic age. They were of leather, generally of a green colour; laced in front with thongs, which passed through small loops on either side; and were principally used, as in Greece and Etruria, by women.

The dresses of women consisted sometimes of a loose robe or shirt, reaching to the ankles, with tight, or full sleeves, and fastened at the neck like those of the men, with a string; over which they often wore a sort of petticoat, secured at the waist by a girdle; and this last, in mourning, while bewailing the death of a relative, was frequently their only dress.

Such was the costume of the lower classes of women; and, sometimes indeed, as at the present day, it consisted merely of the loose shirt or robe, without shoes or sandals.

The higher orders wore a petticoat, or gown, secured at the waist by a coloured sash, or by straps over the shoulders; and above this was a large loose robe, made of the finest linen, with full sleeves,| and tied in front below the breast: and during some religious ceremonies the right arm was taken out of the sleeve, and left exposed as in the funeral processions. The petticoat or gown was of richly coloured stuff, presenting a great variety of patterns, not unlike our modern chintzes, the most elegant of which were selected for the robes of deities and the dresses of queens.


467.              Dresses of women.

The sash in figs. 1 and 2, though represented at the side, is to be understood as tied in front. In fig. 3 the side hair appears to be fixed by a comb; and before it, on the cheek, the short hair is arranged in separate plaits. 4 shows the shirt tied at the neck: It is a terra cotta statue.

Slaves or servants were not allowed to wear the same costume as ladies, and their mode of dressing the hair was different. They generally bound it at the back part of the head, into a sort of loop, or ranged it in one or more long plaits at the back, and eight or nine similar ones were suffered to hang down at either side of the neck and face. They wore a long tight gown, tied at the neck, with short close sleeves, reaching nearly to the elbow: and sometimes a long loose robe was thrown over it, when employed to dance, or to present themselves on festive occasions.

Ladies wore their hair long, and plaited. The back part was made to consist of a number of strings of hair, reaching to the bottom of the shoulder blades, and on each side other strings of the same length descended over the breast. The hair was plaited in the triple plait, the ends being left loose; or, more usually, two or three plaits were fastened together at the extremity by a woollen string of corresponding colour. Around the head was bound an ornamental fillet, with a lotus bud, by way of feronière, falling over the forehead; and the strings of hair, at the sides, were separated and secured with a comb, or a band, ornamented in various ways according to the fancy of the wearer: and occasionally a round stud, or pin, was thrust into them at the front.


468.              Head-dress of a lady, from a mummy case.

The short hair at the side of the face, which the ingenuity of ancient Roman, and modern European ladies, has, by the aid of gum, compelled to lie in an immovable curve upon the cheek, was interwoven with several of its longer neighbours; and these, being bound together at the end with string, fell down before the earring which they partially concealed; or in a simple corkscrew curl. Many of the mummies of women have been found with the hair perfectly preserved, plaited in the manner I have mentioned; the only alteration in its appearance being the change of its black hue, which became reddened by exposure to great heat, during the process of embalming.

The ancient mode of plaiting the hair seems to have been very similar to that of the women in modern Ethiopia, where, too, young girls wear a girdle, or rope, of twisted hair, leather, or other materials, decorated with shells, round the hips.

The earrings, most usually worn by Egyptian ladies, were large, round, single hoops of gold, from one inch and a half, to two inches and one-third, in diameter, and frequently of a still greater size; or made of six rings soldered together sometimes an asp, whose body was of gold set with precious stones, was worn by persons of rank, as a fashionable caprice; but it is probable that this emblem of majesty was usually confined to members of the royal family.

Earrings of other forms have also been found at Thebes, but their date is uncertain; and it is difficult to say if they are of an ancient Egyptian age, or of Greek introduction. Of these the most remarkable are a dragon, and another of fancy shape, which is not inelegant. Some few were of silver, and plain hoops, like those made of gold already noticed, but less massive, being of the thickness of an ordinary ring. At one end was a small opening, into which the curved extremity of the other caught after it had been passed through the ear; and others were in the form of simple studs.

Though gloves do not appear to have been worn by Egyptian women, they were known as early as the 18th dynasty, and brought as part of a tribute to Thothmes III. by the Rot-ǹ-n, an Asiatic people; and long linen gloves, ornamented with a blue stripe, have been found in Egypt.

They wore many rings, sometimes two and three on the same finger: the left was considered the hand peculiarly privileged to bear those ornaments, and it is remarkable that its third finger was decorated with a greater number than any other, and was considered by them, as by us, par excellence the ring finger, though there is no evidence of its having been so honoured at the marriage ceremony. They even wore a ring on the thumb; and I have seen, upon the right hand of a wooden figure, a ring on the thumb, and two on the third finger; and upon the left, one upon the thumb and little finger, two on the fore and second finger, and three on the third. One on the third finger is in the form of a trochus shell, very common in the Red Sea.


469.              Hands of a wooden figure of a woman. On the lid of a mummy case in Mr. Salt’s Collection, now in the British Museum. 1. The left; 2. the right hand.

Some rings were simple; others were made with a scarabæus, or an engraved stone; and they were occasionally in the form of a shell, a knot, a snake, or some fancy device. They were mostly of gold; and this metal seems to have been always preferred to silver, for rings and other articles of jewellery. Silver rings, however, are occasionally met with; and two in my possession, which were accidentally found in a temple at Thebes, are engraved with hieroglyphics, containing the name of the royal city.

Bronze was seldom used for rings, though frequently for signets. Some have been discovered of brass and iron (the latter of a Roman time); but ivory and blue porcelain were the materials of which those worn by the lower classes were usually made. The scarabæus was the favourite form both for rings and the ordinary ornaments of necklaces; in some the stone, flat on both faces, turned on pins, like many of our seals at the present day, and the ring itself was bound round at each end, where it was inserted into the stone, with gold wire. This was common not only to rings but to signets, and was intended for ornament as well as security.

One of the largest signets I have seen, contained twenty pounds worth of gold. (Woodcut 470, figs. 4, 5, 6, 7.)

It consisted of a massive ring, half an inch in its largest diameter, bearing an oblong plinth, on which the devices were engraved one inch long, 6⁄10ths in its greatest, and 4⁄10ths in its smallest, breadth. On one face was the name of King Horus, of the 18th dynasty; on the other a lion, with the legend “lord of strength,” referring to the monarch; on one side a scorpion, and on the other a crocodile.


470.              Rings, signets, bracelets, and earrings.

Fig. 1. Bronze bracelet, or bangle, in the Museum of Alnwick Castle. 2. Gold bracelet in the Leyden Museum, bearing the name of Thothmes III., 1½ inch high, and 3 inches in diameter. 3. Scarabæus of amethyst, with a sphinx, emblematic of the king trampling on a prostrate enemy; over it is the expression “Good God, Lord of the world.” 4. A gold signet, mentioned in the last page. 5, 6, 7. The three other sides of the plinth. 8. A gold ring. 9. The engraved face of it. 10. A gold earring, about 1½ inch in diameter. 11. The face of it, of the real size. 12. A gold ring, in my possession, four-fifths of an inch in diameter. 13. Gold ring with two asps. 14. A snake bracelet of gold. 15. A stone scarabæus. 16. Gold earring. 17. Gold earring with two pearls, a and b. 18, 19, 20. Other gold earrings. 21. Gold earring, 1 inch high and six-tenths broad. 22, 23 Ring of porcelain, or blue glazed pottery. Museum of Alnwick Cattle.

Two cats sitting back to back, and looking round towards each other, with an emblem of the goddess Athor between them, seem to have been a favourite device on gold rings; and I have seen three or four of this pattern. (fig. 11.)

They also had large gold anklets or bangles, armlets, and bracelets, frequently inlaid with precious stones or enamel, and worn by men as well as women. Some were simple bands, or rings of metal; others in the shape of snakes—the last a favourite device among women in all ages, who still continue to be ignorant of the connexion between their taste and Eve’s temptation by the serpent, so gravely set forth by Clemens in condemnation of this graceful ornament. Kings are often represented with armlets and bracelets; and in the Leyden Museum is a gold bracelet bearing the name of the third Thothmes, which was doubtless once worn by that monarch. (fig. 2.)

Handsome and richly ornamented necklaces were a principal part of the dress, both of men and women; and some idea may be formed of the number of jewels they wore, from those borrowed by the Israelites at the time of the Exodus, and by the paintings of Thebes. They consisted of gold, or of beads of various qualities and shapes, disposed according to fancy, generally with a large drop or figure in the centre. Scarabæi, gold, and cornelian bottles, or the emblems of Goodness and Stability, lotus flowers in enamel, amethysts, pearls, false stones, imitations of fish, frogs, lions, and various quadrupeds, birds, reptiles, flies, and other insects, shells and leaves, with numerous figures and devices, were strung in all the variety which their taste could suggest; and the sole museum of Leyden possesses an infinite assortment of those objects, which were once the pride of the ladies of Thebes.

Some wore simple gold chains in imitation of string, to which a stone scarabæus, set in the same precious metal, was appended; but these probably belonged to men, like the torques of the Romans. A set of small cups, or covered saucers, of bronze gilt, hanging from a chain of the same materials, were sometimes worn by women, a necklace of which has been found, belonging to a Theban lady—offering a striking contrast in their simplicity to the gold leaves inlaid with lapis lazzuli, red and green stones, of another she wore; which served, with many more in her possession, to excite the admiration of her friends.


471.              Various necklaces. From the Leyden Museum.

B. is composed of small covered cups, of bronze gilt. I b is the other end of I a. These leaves are of gold, inlaid with lapis lazzuli and green and red stones. M a, a sort of gold torques or chain, of which a stone scarabæus found in gold forms the centre ornament. U in the possession of the late Mr. Madox. V W X Y Z, gold catches of necklaces, one sliding into the other.

The devices engraved on scarabæi, rings, and other objects of ornamental luxe, varied according to the caprice of individuals. Rings frequently bore the name of the wearer; others of the monarch in whose reign he lived; others, again, the emblems of certain deities; and many were mere fanciful combinations. The greater number consisted of scarabæi, mounted upon a gold ring passing through them: the scarabæus itself was of green stone, cornelian, hæmatite, granite, serpentine, agate, lapis lazzuli, root of emerald, amethyst, and other materials; and a cheaper kind was made of limestone, stained to imitate a harder and dearer quality; or of the ordinary blue pottery. Cylinders of stone or blue pottery, bearing devices or hieroglyphics, were also common in necklaces and as signets; one of which, bearing the name of Osirtasen I. (in the Alnwick Museum), proves them to have been of the earliest date in Egypt, and the origin of, rather than derived from, the Cylinders of Assyria. From the number of scarabæi discovered, some have hastily supposed they served as money; but they were either ornamental, funereal, or historical: and some of these last of great size, bearing the name of Amunoph III. and his queen Taia, relate to his conquests, his lion hunts, her parentage, or to public works executed during their reign.

Of the various objects of the toilet, found at Thebes, and other places, the principal are bottles, or vases, for holding ointment, and kohl or collyrium for the eyes, mirrors, combs, and the small boxes, spoons, and saucers already mentioned. The ointment was scented in various ways; some preserved in the museum a. Alnwick Castle has retained its odour for several centuries; and the great use of ointment by the Egyptians is sufficiently indicated in the paintings representing the reception of guests.

With the exception of the little found in the tombs, we have nothing to guide us respecting the nature of Egyptian ointments. Some appear to be made with a nut oil, but it is probable that animal, as well as vegetable, grease was employed for this purpose; the other ingredients depending on the taste of the maker, or the purchaser. Julius Pollux mentions a black kind made in Egypt, and speaks of the sagdas (psagdæ) as an ointment of that country. Theophrastus, on the contrary, states that Egyptian ointments were colourless; but we can readily account for this variance of opinion, by supposing that they had in view two different qualities: which is further proved, by the fact of our finding them both preserved at Thebes. (See pp. 23, 27, 32, and vol. i. p. 259.)

Ointment was frequently kept in alabaster bottles, or vases (whence the Greeks applied the name of alabastron, even to one made of other materials): sometimes in those of the onyx, or other stone, glass, ivory, bone, or shells; specimens of all of which have been discovered in the tombs.

Strabo says that the common people, both men and women, used the oil of the kikki, or castor-berry, for anointing themselves; the general purpose to which it was applied being for lamps: and many oils, as from the simsim, olive, almond, flax, selgam (cole-seed), seemga, lettuce, and other vegetable productions, were extracted in Egypt. (See above, p. 23 to 32.)

The Egyptian combs were usually of wood, and double; one side having large, the other small teeth; the centre part was frequently ornamented with carved work, and, perhaps, inlaid. They were about four inches long, and six deep; and those with a single row of teeth were sometimes surmounted with the figure of an ibex, or other animal.

The custom of staining the eyelids and brows, with a moistened powder of a black colour, was common in Egypt from the earliest times; it was also introduced among the Jews and Romans; and is retained in the East to the present day. It is thought to increase the beauty of the eye; which is made to appear larger by this external addition of a black ring; and many even suppose the stimulus its application gives to be beneficial to the sight. It is made in various ways. Some use antimony, black oxide of manganese, preparations of lead, and other mineral substances: others the black powder of burnt almonds, or frankincense; and many prefer a mixture of different ingredients for making the Kohl.


472.              Combs found at Thebes.

1. Comb with the centre part ornamented. 3. Side view of fig. 2.

4. An ibex, supposed to have formed the top of a comb.

Mr. Lane is perfectly correct in stating that the expression “painted her face,” which Jezebel is said to have done, when Jehu came to Jezreel, is in the Hebrew, “painted her eyes;” the same is again mentioned in Jeremiah and Ezekiel; and the lengthened form of the ancient Egyptian eye, represented in the paintings, was probably produced, as Mr. Lane supposes, by this means.

Many of the Kohl bottles have been found in the tombs, together with the bodkin used for applying the moistened powder. They are of various materials, usually stone, wood, or pottery, sometimes composed of two, sometimes of four and five separate cells, apparently containing each a mixture, differing slightly in its quality and hue, from the other three. Many were simple round tubes, vases, or small boxes: some were ornamented with the figure of an ape, or monster, supposed to assist in holding the bottle between his arms, while the lady dipped into it the pin, with which she painted her eyes; and others were in imitation of a column made of stone, or rich porcelain of the choicest manufacture.


473.              Boxes or bottles, holding the Kohl for staining the eyelids.

1. In the British Museum. c is the bodkin for applying the Kohl. The others are in the Museum of Alnwick Castle.

Pins and needles were also among the articles of the toilet, which have been occasionally found in the tombs. The former are frequently of considerable length, with large gold heads; and some, of a different form, tapering gradually to a point, merely bound with gold at the upper end, without any projecting head (seven or eight inches in length), appear to have been intended for arranging the plaits or curls of hair; like those used in England, in the days of Elizabeth, for nearly the same purpose.


474.              Needles, pins, and earrings.

1, 2. Bronze needles, in the Museum of Alnwick Castle, 3 and 3½ inches long. 3. Large gold-headed pin, in the Berlin Collection. 4. Another of smaller size. 5. Silver earring in my possession, one and four-tenths of an inch in diameter. 6. Gold earring in the Berlin Museum, one and one-third of an inch in diameter. 7. Another, seen from above.

Some needles were of bronze, from three to three and a half inches in length; but as few have been found, we are not able to form any opinion respecting their general size and quality, particularly of those used for fine work, which must have been of a very minute kind.

The custom of staining the fingers red with henneh (the pounded leaves of the Lawsonia) was probably of very ancient date in Egypt and the East; and some have attributed the Greek metaphor of “rosy-fingered Aurora” to its use in the East.

One of the principal objects of the toilet was the mirror. It was of mixed metal, chiefly copper, most carefully wrought and highly polished; and so admirably did the skill of the Egyptians succeed in the composition of metals, that this substitute for our modern looking-glass was susceptible of a lustre, which has even been partially revived at the present day, in some of those discovered at Thebes, though buried in the earth for many centuries.

The mirror itself was nearly round, inserted into a handle of wood, stone, or metal, whose form varied according to the taste of the owner. Some presented the figure of a female, a flower, a column, or a rod ornamented with the head of Athor, a bird, or a fancy device; and sometimes the face of a typhonian monster was introduced to support the mirror, serving as a contrast to the features whose beauty was displayed within it. The same kind of metal mirror was used by the Israelites, who doubtless brought them from Egypt; and the brazen laver made by Moses for the tabernacle was composed “of the looking-glasses of the women, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” A similar one is also used to this day in China and Japan.


475.              Metal mirrors. (See Woodcut 476, fig. 1.)

1, 3, 4, From Mr.Salt’s Collection. 2, from a painting at Thebes. 4 is about 11 inches high.

When walking from home, Egyptian gentlemen frequently carried sticks, varying from three or four to about six feet in length, occasionally surmounted with a knob imitating a flower, or with the more usual peg projecting from one side, some of which have been found at Thebes. Many were of cherry-wood, only three feet three inches long; and those I have seen with the lotus head were generally about the same length. Others appear to have been much longer; the sculptures represent them at least six feet; and one brought to England by Mr. Madox was about five feet in length. Some were ornamented with colour and gilding.

Other metal mirrors.


475 a. Was in the possession of Dr. Hogg. 2 and 3 show the bottom of the handle, to which something has been fastened.


476.              Fig. 1. From Mr. Salt’s Collection; with a wooden handle. Fig. 2. In the Museum of Alnwick Castle.


477.              Walking sticks found at Thebes. 2 is of cherry-wood, in Mr. Salt’s Collection. 3 shows the peg at the side.

On entering a house they left their stick in the hall, or at the door; and poor men were sometimes employed to hold the sticks of the guests who had come to a party on foot, being rewarded by the master of the house for their trouble with a trifling compensation in money, with their dinner, or a piece of meat to carry to their family. The name of each person was frequently written on his stick, in hieroglyphics, for which reason a hard wood was preferred, as the acacia, which seems to have been more generally used than any other; and on one found at Athribis, the owner had written—“O my stick! the support of my legs,” &c.


478.              Priests and other persons of rank walking with sticks. Thebes.

We have little knowledge of the nature of their baths; but as they were forbidden in deep mourning to indulge in them, we may conclude they were considered as a luxury, as well as a necessary comfort.

The only instance I have met with in the paintings is in a tomb at Thebes, where a lady is represented with four attendants, who wait upon her, and perform various duties.

One removes the jewellery and clothes she has taken off, or suspends them to a stand in the apartment; another pours water from a vase over her head, as the third rubs her arms and body with her open hands; and a fourth seated near her holds a sweet-scented flower to her nose, and supports her as she sits. A similar subject is treated nearly in the same manner on some of the Greek vases, the water being poured over the bather, who kneels, or is seated on the ground.

Warm as well as cold baths were used by the Egyptians, though for ordinary ablutions cold water was preferred; and both were probably recommended medicinally when occasion required.


479.              A lady in the bath with her attendants.              Thebes.

1.              The lady seated on a mat or carpet. 2. An attendant holding a flower, and supporting her.

3.              Rubs her arm with the hand, as in the modern Turkish bath.

4.              Pours water over her.

5.              Takes care of her clothes and ornaments.

The Egyptians paid great attention to health, and “so wisely,” says Herodotus, “was medicine managed by them, that no doctor was permitted to practise any but his own peculiar branch. Some were oculists, who only studied diseases of the eye; others attended solely to complaints of the head; others to those of the teeth; some again confined themselves to complaints of the intestines; and others to secret and internal maladies; accoucheurs being usually, if not always, women.” And it is a singular fact, that their dentists adopted a method, not very long practised in Europe, of stopping teeth with gold, proofs of which have been obtained from some mummies of Thebes.

They received certain salaries from the public treasury; and after they had studied those precepts which had been laid down from the experience of their predecessors, they were permitted to practise; and, in order to prevent dangerous experiments being made upon patients, they might be punished if their treatment was contrary to the established system: and the death of a person entrusted to their care, under such circumstances, was adjudged to them as a capital offence. If, however, every remedy had been administered according to the sanatory law, they were absolved from blame; and if the patient was not better, the physician was allowed to alter the treatment after the third day, or even before, if he took upon himself the responsibility.

Though paid by Government as a body, it was not illegal to receive fees for their advice and attendance; and demands could be made in every instance except on a foreign journey, and on military service; when patients were visited free of expense.

The principal mode adopted by the Egyptians for preventing illness was attention to regimen and diet; “being persuaded that the majority of diseases proceed from indigestion and excess of eating;” and they had frequent recourse to abstinence, emetics, slight doses of medicine, and other simple means of relieving the system, which some persons were in the habit of repeating every two or three days. “Those who live in the corn country,” as Herodotus terms it, were particular for their attention to health. “During three successive days, every month, they submitted to a regular course of treatment; from the conviction that illness was wont to proceed from some irregularity in diet;” and if preventives were ineffectual, they had recourse to suitable remedies, adopting a mode of treatment very similar to that mentioned by Diodorus.

The employment of numerous drugs in Egypt has been mentioned by sacred and profane writers; and the medicinal properties of many herbs which grow in the deserts, particularly between the Nile and Red Sea, are still known to the Arabs; though their application has been but imperfectly recorded and preserved.

“O virgin, daughter of Egypt,” says Jeremiah, “in vain shalt thou use many medicines, for thou shalt not be cured;” and Homer, in the Odyssey, describes the many valuable medicines given by Polydamna, the wife of Thonis, to Helen while in Egypt, “a country whose fertile soil produces an infinity of drugs, some salutary and some pernicious; where each physician possesses knowledge above all other men.” Pliny makes frequent mention of the productions of that country, and their use in medicine; he also notices the physicians of Egypt; and as if their number was indicative of the many maladies to which the inhabitants were subject, he observes, that it was a country productive of numerous diseases. In this, however, he does not agree with Herodotus, who affirms that, “after the Libyans, there are no people so healthy as the Egyptians, which may be attributed to the invariable nature of the seasons in their country.”

Pliny even says, that the Egyptians examined the bodies after death, to ascertain the nature of the diseases of which they had died; and we can readily believe that a people, so far advanced in civilisation and the principles of medicine, as to assign to each physician his peculiar branch, would have resorted to this effectual method of acquiring knowledge and experience.

It is evident that the medical science of the Egyptians was sought and appreciated even in foreign countries; and we learn from Herodotus, that Cyrus and Darius both sent to Egypt for medical men. In later times too, they continued to be celebrated for their skill: Ammianus says it was enough for a doctor to say he had studied in Egypt to recommend him; and Pliny mentions medical men going from Egypt to Rome. But though their physicians are often noticed by ancient writers, the only indication of medical attendance appears to be in the paintings of Beni Hassan; and even there it is uncertain whether a doctor, or a barber, be represented.


480.              Doctors and patients, (or Barbers?) Beni Hassan.

Their doctors probably felt the pulse; as Plutarch shows they did at Rome, from this saying of Tiberius, “a man after he has passed his thirtieth year, who puts forth his hand to a physician, is ridiculous;” whence our proverb of “a fool or a physician after forty.”

Diodorus tells us, that dreams were regarded in Egypt with religious reverence, and the prayers of the devout were often rewarded by the gods, with an indication of the remedy their sufferings required; and magic, charms, and various supernatural agencies, were often resorted to by the credulous; who “sought to the idols, and to the charmers, and to them that had familiar spirits, and to the wizards.” (Isaiah, 19:3.)

Origen also says, that when any part of the body was afflicted with disease, they invoked the demon to whom it was supposed to belong, in order to obtain a cure.

In cases of great moment oracles were consulted; and a Greek papyrus found in Egypt mentions divination “through a boy with a lamp, a bowl, and a pit;” which resembles the pretended power of the modern magicians of Egypt. The same also notices the mode of discovering theft, and obtaining any wish; and though it is supposed to be of the 2nd century, the practices it alludes to are doubtless from an old Egyptian source; and other similar papyri contain recipes for obtaining good fortune and various benefits, or for causing misfortunes to an enemy. Some suppose the Egyptians had even recourse to animal magnetism, and that dreams indicating cures were the result of this influence; and (though the subjects erroneously supposed to represent it apply to a very different act) it is not impossible that they may have discovered the mode of exercising this art, and that it may have been connected with the strange scenes recorded at the initiation into the mysteries. If really known, such a power would scarcely have been neglected; and it would have been easy to obtain thereby an ascendency over the minds of a superstitious people.

Indeed the readiness of man at all times to astonish on the one hand, and to court the marvellous on the other, is abundantly proved by present and past experience. That the nervous system may be worked upon by it to such a degree, that a state either of extreme irritability, or of sleep and coma, may be induced, in the latter case paralysing the senses so as to become deadened to pain, is certain; and a highly sensitive temperament may exhibit phenomena beyond the reach of explanation; but it requires very little experience to know that we are wonderfully affected by far more ordinary causes; for the nerves may be acted upon to such an extent, by having as we commonly term it “our teeth set on edge,” that the mere filing a saw would suffice to drive any one mad, if unable to escape from its unceasing discord. What is this but an effect upon the nerves? and what more could be desired to prove the power of any agency? And the world would owe a debt of gratitude to the professors of animal magnetism, if instead of making it, as some do, a mere exhibition to display a power, and astonish the beholders, they would continue the efforts already begun, for discovering all the beneficial uses to which it is capable of being applied. We might then rejoice that, as astrology led to the more useful knowledge of astronomy, this influence enabled us to comprehend our nervous system, on which so many conditions of health depend, and with which we are so imperfectly acquainted.

The cure of diseases was also attributed by the Egyptians to Exvotos offered in the temples. They consisted of various kinds. Some persons promised a certain sum for the maintenance of the sacred animals; or whatever might propitiate the deity; and after the cure had been effected, they frequently suspended a model of the restored part, in the temple; and ears, eyes, distorted arms, and other members, were dedicated as memorials of their gratitude and superstition.


481.              Exvotos.

1. Ivory hand, in Mr. Salt’s Collection. 2. Stone tablet, dedicated to Amunre, for the recovery of a complaint in the ear; found at Thebes. 3. An ear of terra cotta in my possession, from Thebes.

Sometimes travellers, who happened to pass by a temple, inscribed a votive sentence on the walls, to indicate their respect for the deity, and solicit his protection during their journey; the complete formula of which contained the adoration (proskunéma) of the writer, with the assurance that he had been mindful of his wife, his family, and friends; and the reader of the inscription was sometimes included in a share of the blessings it solicited. The date of the king’s reign and the day of the month were also added, with the profession and parentage of the writer. The complete formula of one proskunéma was as follows: “The adoration of Caius Capitolinus, son of Flavius Julius, of the fifth troop of Theban horse, to the goddess Isis, with ten thousand names. And I have been mindful of (or have made an adoration for) all those who love me, and my consort, and children, and all my household, and for him who reads this. In the year 12 of the emperor Tiberius Cæsar, the 15 of Paüni.”

The Egyptians, according to Pliny, claimed the honour of having invented the art of curing diseases. Indeed, the study of medicine and surgery appears to have commenced at a very early period in Egypt, since Athothes, the second king of the country, is stated to have written upon the subject of anatomy; and the schools of Alexandria continued till a late period to enjoy the reputation, and display the skill, they had inherited from their predecessors. Hermes was said to have written six books on medicine, the first of which related to anatomy; and the various recipes, known to have been beneficial, were recorded, with their peculiar cases, in the memoirs of physic, inscribed among the laws deposited in the principal temples.

The embalmers were probably members of the medical profession, and the Bible states that “the physicians embalmed” Jacob.


482.              Funeral Boat, or Baris. Thebes.


P. Tomb at Saḳḳara, arched with stone, of the time of Psammitichus, or Psamatik, II., whose name occurs on the roof to the left, and in other places.

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