WHY THE MIGHT OF ANCIENT EGYPT DECAYED

The domestic history of Egypt relates the struggle between absolute monarchy and a rebellious feudal aristocracy. The first kings assembled their nobles at Court, and gave them positions of honour in the government. This made it easy to keep them under observation, and to check any plans for founding semi-independent dukedoms. Later kings were weaker and allowed the great landowners to remain on their estates and set up private courts. The strength of the country was dissipated, and about 1800 B.C. it was conquered by foreign invaders from Western Asia called Hyksos, who ruled the land for over two hundred years, and are said to have introduced the horse and war chariot into Egypt. A native dynasty then regained the throne, and extended Egyptian power into Palestine and Syria and as far as the Euphrates (600 to 1200 B.C.). Syria and Palestine were never securely held, and after 1400 B.C. various peoples from the north and east began to nibble away the frontiers. A collection of letters dating from this period has been preserved. They are chiefly from the kings of the Hittites, a growing power in Eastern Asia Minor, and from the Babylonian and Assyrian kings ; they present us with a vivid picture of secret diplomacy based on subsidies and dynastic marriages. The Hittites possessed iron mines, and were beginning to make iron weapons, which were much superior to those of copper and bronze, that had been used up till then. Their king, feeling confident in his new weapons, is very peremptory in his tone. The decline was checked temporarily by a new line of kings, of whom Rameses II. (1292 to 1225 B.C.) is the best known, but the loss of Syria to the Hittites had to be accepted as permanent. The Egyptians had never been a conquering race, for they were very well satisfied with their own Nile Valley, and had a great contempt for foreigners. The kings had to resort to mercenaries, paid foreign soldiers, who finally seized the government. Between the twelfth and eighth centuries B.C., the land suffered a long decline materially and spiritually under alternations of foreign or priestly rule. In the seventh century B.C. the Assyrians overran the country for a brief period, but soon withdrew. A short-lived revival kept Egypt independent with the aid of Greek mercenaries from 663 B.C. to 525 B.C., when the land was absorbed into the Persian Empire. Egypt made great contributions to civilisation : in thought, the promise and the partial development of a higher morality ; in politics, the first united nation under a single government; in the arts, statues and temples from which the Greeks borrowed suggestions for their own restrained and humane art. Above all, we should remember the Egyptians as the main authors of our modern alphabet and the discoverers of the paper on which man first wrote.