Ruler of the Stars – by Marianne Luban

 

 By Marianne Luban

 When Thutmose III, finally freed of the shadow of his aunt in the 22nd year of his unusual reign, decided to march east on his first Levantine campaign, there were some things to take into consideration.  According to the annals of the pharaoh, there were 330 princes rebellious toward the Egyptian empire waiting for him in Asia, each with his own army.  The one who had actually consolidated the empire was Thutmose’s grand-sire, Aakheperkare Thutmose I, and so the grandson doubtless felt it his duty to maintain his inheritance.  But there was another factor at play as well.  Menkheperre Thutmose was fully aware that the Canaanite petty rulers knew that he had been second to a woman for nearly two decades and probably considered him a weakling on account of it.  Now was the time to dispel that misconception of his true nature once and for all.  Thutmose was resolved to do battle with those princes, if necessary, besiege their walled cities, for certain, but that required the mustering of a great force of his own.

Ancient Egypt of the New Kingdom did not have a standing army.  It was drawn from the citizenry, primarily the peasants since most of the nation was devoted to agriculture.  But the farmers could only leave their fields at certain times of the year.  The optimal time was when the harvesting of the crops was completed in the spring and there was nothing to do but wait out the scorching summer until the inundation arrived and receded to allow for fall planting.  In other words, the main crops of Egypt, the wheat and the barley, matured during the winter season of Peret or “the coming forth”.  Bread was the staple of the Egyptian diet.

In the era of Menkheperre Thutmose III, the months of the civil calendar did not have names, only numbers from one to twelve.  Much later, names were derived from the main feast days of each month.  Even in more modern times, the farmers said, “Baramhat [Phamenoth], go to the field and fetch.”  This means that in this month, which ideally runs through part of April, the harvest is in full swing.  Then came the saying, “Barmuda [Pharmouti], pound with the rod”, April/May being the time for threshing.  By May/June there is nothing left in the field and that’s why one declared, “Bashans [Pakhons] sweeps the field entirely.”  So the sayings remained, but the civil months were only in their proper season for limited times in pharaonic history as their calendar did not employ leap years and therefore wandered through the three naturally-occurring seasons of Egypt, Inundation, Winter and Summer.  Only after another 1,460 years did the civil calendar and these seasons synchronize fully once again and the sighting of the star, Sirius [spdt] occurred on New Year’s Day, the beginning of the month of Thaout.  This astral sign was the harbinger of the season of the flood and was sighted around July 18 by the Julian calendar.

But there was yet another consideration–the harvest in the Levant.  One could take advantage of that, were one to arrive in time.  The Canaanite harvest was slightly behind that of Egypt and the cereal crops there could be seized as booty, not to mention the newly-trod wine, if one was victorious and could wait until September for the grapes to mature.  After that, hauling back the goods to Egypt, which could include pomegranates, figs, and olives, the pharaoh’s army returned to their villages to tend to the sowing of the fields.  Therefore, without any other indications, we can already surmise what time of the year it was by more modern calendars when Thutmose set out with his army.  However, it so happens that his annals give the itinerary and they say that Thutmose and his forces found themselves at the fortress of  Djaru/Sile [the place at the gateway to Egypt where one collected the weapons of war] on the “4th month of the second season, day 25″.  That would have been April 20th in 1482 BCE–according to the Julian calendar–later to be known as the month of Pharmouti.  Why I choose the year 1482 for Year 22 in the reign of Thutmose III will soon become apparent but it is already manifest that, by now, the citizen soldiers had already completed their harvest task.

In the first month of the 3rd season [which is Shomu], Day 4, the Egyptian calendar turned to Year 23 because it was the anniversary of the accession of the pharaoh to the kingship–but, of course, it is still 1482 by the Julian calendar.  Later, the first month of Shomu would be called Pakhons, after the moon god, Khonsu.  On Day 21 of Pakhons, Thutmose appeared at dawn to address the troops and then set off in a golden chariot to engage the enemy at a place called Megiddo in Canaan.  Thus began a siege of the walled city that lasted seven months.  Day 21 of Pakhons was May 16 by the Julian calendar.  It was also the “feast of the new moon”.  The term used for the “true new moon” was “psDntiw mAaty”.  According to the Egyptians, the moon, “the ruler of the stars”, was conceived on a day of the month known as the “psDntiw” and was not born until the following day–or night.  That means that the “psDntiw” was the new moon [or “no moon”, in reality] prior to the sighting of the first sliver of its waxing. In fact, May 16, 1482 BC appears to be the date of the new moon by the lunar phase’s retroactive calculator.

The new moon would appear on 21 Pakhons in 25-year increments, but I believe that 1507 BCE might be too early for Year 23 of Thutmose III.  Regardless, the dates 1507 May 22,
1482 May 16, 1457 May 9 all seem not unreasonable, but it becomes clear that the higher the date, the more time the Egyptians had to finish their own harvest in the month of Pharmouti.  However, agriculturally speaking, the middle date allows the army not to miss the Canaanite cereal harvest, as well.  Had these crops been taken from the fields surrounding Megiddo by the time Thutmose arrived, the siege of the city might have lasted longer than seven months.  But, as it turned out, many of the shut up people emerged from hunger to be taken captive and the Egyptians claimed to have carried off “207, 300 [+x] sacks of wheat, apart from that cut as forage by his majesty’s army” – with the rest of the considerable spoils of war.

April 2009

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