Empire, Oil, and Disaster - blog about my new book

A religious sect getting more and more attention of the world. Jews in the Middle East already have problems with them. Coincidentally, a terrible terract happens in the largest city of the empire. The same religious sect is blamed for it. The year is 64 AD. The sect is Christians. The place is Rome of the emperor Nero.
Beware of September Ides!

Location: United States

Monday, July 26, 2004

The origin of the name "Egypt"

Egypt or Aegyptos or Aegyptus is a Greek distortion of the Egyptian Het-Ka-Ptah (Hw.t-kA-PtH) - "the place of Ptah", "the place where the projection of Ptah manifested", that was found on a stela on the site of Memphis (Mn-nfr, Men-Nefer, "The Beautiful Monument"), an older name inb-hD ("The White Walls").

Interesting, but after inventing this name by distorting the original Egyptian sentence, Greeks forgot about it, and was so puzzled by this name that invented a myth about the king Aigýptos ("supine goat"), who supposedly ruled the Egypt and gave him his name ([6]).

[1] Stephen Mehler's Research
[2] Memphis
[3] Memphis
[4] A brief introduction to Coptic Egypt
[5] Inscription of the royal scribe Amenhotep
[6] Aigyptos


Sunday, July 25, 2004

Did Egyptians really were monotheists?

Well, this is a very politically charged question. So charged, that you may be attacked by merely stating your opinion, whatever it is. So let me just quote the Egyptians, and judge for yourself... The quote is taken from [1], p.xcii.

"God is one and alone, and none other existeth with Him - God is the One, the One hath made all things - God is a spirit, a hidden spirit, the spirit of spirits, the great spirit of the Egyptians, the divine spirit - God is from the beginning, and He hath been from the beginning, He hath existed from old and was when nothing else had being. He existed when nothing else existed, and what existeth He created..."

[1] The Egyptian Book of the Dead: (The Papyrus of Ani) Egyptian Text Transliteration and Transalation / E.A. Wallis Budge - Dover Publications, Inc., New York, Unabridged reprint of 1895 edition, 378pp. - ISBN 0-486-21866-X


Monday, July 19, 2004

Few more dates from Heliopolis history

Persian invasions in 525 BCE and 343 BCE.
"Cleopatra needles" removed to Alexandria by the Emperor Augustus in AD 23.


Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Was the Jewish temple in On functional in AD 64?

Yes, it was. Here is fragment from Joseph Flavius describing how it was actually closed after the rebellion:

(4)[433] And now Lupus, the governor of Alexandria, upon the receipt of Caesar's letter, came to the temple, and carried out of it some of the donations dedicated thereto, and shut up the temple itself. And as Lupus died a little afterward, Paulinns succeeded him. This man left none of those donations there, and threatened the priests severely if they did not bring them all out; nor did he permit any who were desirous of worshipping God there so much as to come near the whole sacred place; but when he had shut up the gates, he made it entirely inaccessible, insomuch that there remained no longer the least footsteps of any Divine worship that had been in that place. Now the duration of the time from the building of this temple till it was shut up again was three hundred and forty-three years.

For reference, Strabo, who visited the city around AD 30, found the temple of Ra functional as well and the priests still around, even though the city was almost "deserted".

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Monday, July 12, 2004

What Egyptians thought about Jews and their exodus from Egypt?

Egyptian priest and historian Manetho, who live around 300 BC, wrote that "It was also reported that the priest, who ordained their polity and their laws, was by birth of Heliopolis, and his name Osarsiph, from Osyris, who was the god of Heliopolis; but that when he was gone over to these people, his name was changed, and he was called Moses."

Original works of Manetho did not survived 2 millennia, but fragments of his writings came to us from the works of people who argued with him, like Josephus Flavius. AFAIK, none of the facts reported by Manetho was refuted by modern history and a number of them were confirmed with archeological evidence.

Overall, it seems that Egyptians did not like Jews. During Ptolemaic period Jews successfully competed with Egyptians for the place at the royal court, the privilege Egyptian aristocracy would rather keep for themselves. That was probably most likely reason for such an attitude, although it is hard to say today for sure.


What was the name of Heliopolis in AD 64?

Well, the Greeks (and Romans, of course) called it Heliopolis, how else. The question is how Egyptians called it? The first century AD is the time when the last Egyptian language evolved - Coptic language. It evolved from the older Egyptian but used Greek alphabet (with few extra letters) and on the later stage included a number of new Christian terms.
  • We know that in Coptic language Heliopolis was called On. This is also the name used in the Bible.

  • We know that ancient Egyptians used the name Iunu, we know that from their texts.

  • We know that in the First century AD (and actually quite a bit before that) there was a significant difference between spoken and written Egyptian language.

So while Egyptian could call Heliopolis "On", they could had continue writing "Iunu" in hieroglyphic documents. Or "On" from the Bible could have replaced Iunu in spoken Egyptian when it evolved into Coptic. What it means is that in the first case it was most certainly called On in AD 64 - spoken language changes are faster than written language, but not so fast; while in the second case it could be still Iunu, because Christianity still did not got enough momentum around.

The version of taking the name from the Bible seems possible, but less probable. After all, how many French people call themselves “Gauls” in the normal life? So, essentially, I had to make an guess that it was a natural development of the Egyptian language and hence it was already called On, although Simaat should have knew about the ancient pronunciation.


"First priests" -- were they really heads of the temple police?

Well, here is some real background. In Egyptian temples the High Priest was normally also called "the first prophet". The second guy after him was not the "first priest", he was called "the second prophet". So, here my account is a bit frivolous, it's pretty much a freeform translation rather than the strict one. In my defense I can say that there were cultures where the second guy was called "the first priest".

However, what's important is that this second guy controlled all the administrative life of a temple, including the temple security or police. So in reality this second guy was even more powerful than I describe. He controlled not only police, but pretty much the budget and all the workers of the temple as well.


Saturday, July 10, 2004

What was the condition of Heliopolis in AD 64?

After Alexadnria was built, many monuments of Heliopolis were moved there. It still kept its role of the religious center, but it declined gradually. It anyway declined since the old times (around 1500 BC), in part due to the Persian invasions in 525 BC and 343 BC ([1])

One of the most well known monuments of Heliopolis are "Cleopatra needles" ([2]). They were erected around 1500 BC, moved to Alexandria in AD 23 by Augustus, and now they are in London and the Central Park in New York.

According to Strabo (~64 BC - AD 24) it was almost uninhabited in the beginning of the new millenia, although the priests were there and ceremonies continued ([4]).

[1] Heliopolis, Egypt's Iunu By Marie Parsons
[2] Heliopolis/On Encyclopaedia of the Orient
[3] HELIOPOLIS hé-lé-‘äp-e-les
[4] Heliopolis, Wikipedia


Friday, July 09, 2004

How Egyptian river vessels looked like

Of course, there were papyrus boats, like the one, which Thor Heyerdahl used to travel from Egypt to Florida. However, one could expect that Nil would rather chose a more comfortable vessel. River granary ships were large and hence more comfortable. Besides, they just delivered the grain to Alexandria and had to go back up the stream before the river level would go up (the peak was in August-September).

Such ships were made out of a wooden framework covered with wood or papyrus lashed together with ropes. After the material got enough moisture, it swallen and made a watertight seal making the ship body usable.


Quotes from Nil's blog on the main site

From the private blogs of Nil and other personages about the events that happened long ago if they happened at all. Have fun.


Map of Alexandria is posted on the main site

See maps at septemberides.us site. Big red star indicates the palace and the residence of the prefect of Egypt.

Two stellas stood in front of it, known as "Cleopatra needles". They were brought from Heliopolis by Augustus. Today one of them is on the bank of Thames river, UK; another in the Central Park, New York.

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

How much fare from Joppa to Alexandria could cost?

The price was very flexible and depend mostly on which of the sides wanted a deal more, if there were other alternatives available, etc. Keep in mind, for Jason it was practically something for nothing. He anyway was going to Alexandria. An extra person on board did not matter much. Nil was very much like a modern hitchhiker on a highway. However, Jason knew that there is no much competition to him, so it made sense to try to make some income. Besides, Jason did not had any reasons not to take Nil, but except for money, he did not had any reasons to take him either.

How much could he hope to get? There are two sides in the equation. First, it should be something noticeable enough to bother. That’s pretty much the reason why we don’t see books for 50c around anymore, although the technology would allow to print at this price. It should be a business, not “a coin for good luck.”

Imagine a plastic 2-liter Coke bottle filled with grain. That amount of grain would cost 3 sesterces in Rome, or almost a silver coin (1 denarius = 4 sestertii). In a province it easily could cost just one sestertius. This amount of grain is enough to make about 10 simple meals for a small family of two adults and two children (remember, that time family with two children was a small family), that is to live several days. Because the crewmembers of Jason were poor, it would be a tangible enough benefit. One sestertius could be also a one-day wage of a simple laborer like a mule driver or a brick maker. So assuming that Jason wanted to use the chance to cheer up his crew of eight people and get for himself something, probably at least a half of what he gives to the whole crew, that makes 12 sesterces (equal 3 denarii) the bare minimum below which Jason would not get interested.

What’s the upper limit? Technically, the price of the boat, pardon, the ship. Jason’s ship is, frankly speaking, just a boat, and not very large (see the description in the text). Assuming that five master could make such a boat in a week, and assuming that boat builders make twice as much as simple laborers, we have the labor cost for making a boat equal 5 men * 6 days (they worked 6 days in a week, not 5) * 2 sest. = 60 sestertii = 15 denarii, still well below 1 aureum. Add material, and profit margin, and you get the market price of such a boat somewhere around 20 denarii.

Hence, we have the upper and lower limit. For 3 denarii Jason would be barely interested, for 20 denarii Nil could buy another boat of the similar size.

Granted, these estimates are highly speculative in the nature and not quite precise. But keeping in mind that fares really varied wildly depending on the circumstances and personalities involved, it a good evaluation to see what Nil and Jason could talk about and what they could agree in the end.