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38 UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.

 

origin which at a very remote epoch occupied and civilized the lower valley
of the Tigris and the Euphrates.  The ethnic position of the Egyptians
will accordingly be given as in the annexed diagram:

[diagram]

It must not be supposed, however, that the invaders
of the valley of the Nile were uninfluenced in their primitive character by
previous contact with other races.  The language spoken by the ancient
Egyptians gives unmistakable evidence of intercourse between them and both
the Semitic and Aryan branches of the human family.  But the ancient speech
of Egypt was a distinct tongue, and the attempt to classify it as a Semitic
dialect is as erroneous as to make the English language an offshoot of Latin,
of German a derivative of Greek.

From the sculptures and inscriptions, it is certain
that as many as four races of men were known to the Egyptians--three besides
themselves.  in a tomb at Thebes, belonging to about the year 1500 B.C.,
a scene is depicted in which the god Horus is represented as leading a company
of sixteen persons in groups of four, each group belonging to a different race.  In
the company the Egyptian, Semitic, Nigritian, and Aryan types of mankind are
delineated with a clearness not to be mistaken; so that both before and after
the original conquest of the Nile valley by the people called Egyptians, it
is certain that they were ethnically modified by contact with other races.

The Asiatic invaders of Egypt, upon their entrance
into the valley, found themselves in the midst of strange surroundings.  Their
previous life was in no manner suited  to the new condition.  The
vocation of the hunter, the wild flight of the nomad, and the vigil of the
shepherd were no longer practicable.  Instead of the open plains and boundless
deserts, they found here a narrow oasis, green, cool, and luxuriant.  Here
were no forests.  Here were no storms of rain.  Here nature restored
the soil with her own riches, and yielded her abundance without labor.  The
first result of the new situation was that the immigrants abandoned the pastoral
life for the pursuits of agriculture, and at a very early date acquired fixed
habitations.

The first season after the invasion would bring to
the new people the striking phenomenon of a flood in the river; and the regular
recurrence of the same fact year by year would force upon their attention the
advantages as well as the dangers of the overflow, and suggest the best means
of protecting man and beast.  Intercourse must be maintained during the
long period of the inundation, and the primitive dealings of the mart must
be carried on by water.  Supplies must be provided and landmarks must
be firmly set, so that there shall be no displacement by the flood. The co-operation
of man with man was a necessity of the situation. The range of hills on either
hand, pressing upon the increasing population, stimulated the establish- ment
of social order, and rendered necessary the organization of large communities.
The situation favored the multiplication of villages, the projection of common
enterprises, and the building of cities. In no country of the ancient world
were there so many towns, great and small, crowded into so narrow a district
as in the valley of the Nile. The existence of great civic communities sprang
from the conditions here suggested.

Nature to the ancient Egyptians presented a fixed and unchanging outline. In no other region of the globe did natural phenomena recur in an order so monotonous. The few birds that frequented the plashy brink of the river gave forth an ominous cry. The landscape was solemn; the sky, still and cloudless.

Man surrounded with such a scene and impressed by such associations must soon acquire a character stern, sedate, and passionless. The ancient Egyptians were the most unmirthful of all the peoples of antiquity. The environment was such as to blunt the mirthful sentiments and dwarf the fancy. Only a race unimpassioned and saturnine could inhabit and develop Egypt.

The sameness of nature had another and still more important influence upon the early inhabitants of the country. The unchanging aspect and persistent recurrence of the same phenomena strongly stimulated the natural disposition of men to follow the same pursuit from generation to generation, thus laying the foundation of the system of caste.

Whenever a vocation is handed down from father to son for several generations, that pursuit becomes more honorable than others, and it is soon regarded as a misfortune and disgrace to fall out of the line of ancestral activities and achievements. In Egypt only a few pursuits were possible; and whenever a given family had become identified with a certain calling, as of agriculture, priestcraft, or war, it soon became little less than a scandal and a sacrilege in a member of that family to abandon the honored vocation or to affiliate with those who followed less favored pursuits. In but a few countries of the world were the antecedent conditions of caste so strongly operative as in Egypt, and in but a few were castes so early and firmly established.

The abundance soon acquired by the ancient Egyptians, the fertility of their lands, the clustering villages, and the facility of access to the valley, quickly aroused the predatory lust of the surrounding tribes. The nomads of the deserts and hills saw in the rich bottoms every inducement to foray and incursion. Those who were bravest to repel attacks and swiftest in punishing the marauders would soon be held as public benefactors, deliverers of the land out of the hands of brigands and robbers.

Property is always swift to reward its defender. The esteem in which the warrior is held increases with each successful defense of the fields and villages. The timid tillers of the soil willingly yield the palm of precedence and authority to the soldier who fights their battles. He grows strong, and stands high above those who build walls and gather harvests. The situation in Egypt was of a kind to call into constant requisition the services of a valorous soldiery, and consequently to establish and make preeminent a military caste in the country.

In the establishment of ancient states and kingdoms, he who stood as the interpreter of Nature was likewise held in great honor and esteem. The mysterious character of the duty which he was called to perform lent a charm to his office and gave to the priest for such he was a reputation for sanctity and wisdom. Popular respect soon grew into veneration, and the local repute of the seer quickly widened into general fame.

In proportion to the magnitude and mystery of the problems which the priest had to solve would be the reverential awe and respect with which he would be regarded by the people. If, at any time or under any conditions, the phenomena of Nature seemed of manifest explanation, if the causes of things appeared to be easily traceable to other causes already