This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 We must, however, enter into a further detail of particulars. And first, we must speak of the parts about Egypt, proceeding from those that are better known to those which follow next in order. The Nile produces some common effects in this and the contiguous tract of country, namely, that of the Ethiopians above it, in watering them at the time of its rise, and leaving those parts only habitable which have been covered by the inundation; it intersects the higher lands, and all the tract elevated above its current on both sides, which however are uninhabited and a desert, from an absolute want of water. But the Nile does not traverse the whole of Ethiopia, nor alone, nor in a straight line, nor a country which is well inhabited. But Egypt it traverses both alone and entirely, and in a straight line, from the lesser cataract above Syene and Elephantina, (which are the boundaries of Egypt and Ethiopia,) to the mouths by which it discharges itself into the sea. The Ethiopians at present lead for the most part a wandering life, and are destitute of the means of subsistence, on account of the barrenness of the soil, the disadvantages of climate, and their great distance from us. Now the contrary is the case with the Egyptians in all these respects. For they have lived from the first under a regular form of government, they were a people of civilized manners, and were settled in a well-known country; their institutions have been recorded and mentioned in terms of praise, for they seemed to have availed themselves of the fertility of their country in the best possible manner by the partition of it (and by the classification of persons) which they adopted, and by their general care. When they had appointed a king, they divided the people into three classes, into soldiers, husbandmen, and priests. The latter had the care of everything relating to sacred things (of the gods), the others of what related to man; some had the management of warlike affairs, others attended to the concerns of peace, the cultivation of the ground, and the practice of the arts, from which the king derived his revenue. The priests devoted themselves to the study of philosophy and astronomy, and were companions of the kings. The country was at first divided into nomes.1 The Thebaïs contained ten, the Delta ten, and the intermediate tract sixteen. But according to some writers, all the nomes together amounted to the number of chambers in the Labyrinth. Now these were less than thirty [six]. The nomes were again divided into other sections. The greater number of the nomes were distributed into toparchies, and these again into other sections ; the smallest portions were the arouræ. An exact and minute division of the country was required by the frequent confusion of boundaries occasioned at the time of the rise of the Nile, which takes away, adds, and alters the various shapes of the bounds, and obliterates other marks by which the property of one person is distinguished from that of another. It was consequently necessary to measure the land repeatedly. Hence it is said geometry originated here, as the art of keeping accounts and arithmetic originated with the Phœnicians, in consequence of their commerce.2 As the whole population of the country, so the separate population in each nome, was divided into three classes ; the territory also was divided into three equal portions. The attention and care bestowed upon the Nile is so great as to cause industry to triumph over nature. The ground by nature, and still more by being supplied with water, produces a great abundance of fruits. By nature also a greater rise of the river irrigates a larger tract of land; but industry has completely succeeded in rectifying the deficiency of nature, so that in seasons when the rise of the river has been less than usual, as large a portion of the country is irrigated by means of canals and embankments, as in seasons when the rise of the river has been greater. Before the times of Petronius there was the greatest plenty, and the rise of the river was the greatest when it rose to the height of fourteen cubits; but when it rose to eight only, a famine ensued. During the government of Petronius, however, when the Nile rose twelve cubits only, there was a most abundant crop; and once when it mounted to eight only, no famine followed. Such then is the nature of this provision for the physical state of the country. We shall now proceed to the next particulars.
1 The Nile valley was parcelled out into a number of cantons, varying
in size and number. Each of these cantons was called a nome (νομὸς) by
the Greeks, ‘præfectura oppidorum’ by the Romans. Each had its
civil governor, the Nomarch, who collected the crown revenues, and presided in the local capital and chief court of justice. Each nome too had
its separate priesthood, its temple, chief and inferior towns, its magistrates, registration and peculiar creed, ceremonies and customs; and each
was apparently independent of every other nome. At certain seasons,
delegates from the various cantons met in the palace of the Labyrinth, for
consultation on public affairs (b. xvii. c. i. § 37). According to Diodorus,
the nomes date from Sesostris. But they did not originate from that
monarch, but emanated probably from the distinctions of animal worship;
and the extent of the local worship probably determined the boundary of
the nome. Thus in the nome of Thebais, where the ram-headed deity
was worshipped, the sheep was sacred, the goat was eaten and sacrificed:
in that of Mendes, where the goat was worshipped, the sheep was a
victim and an article of food. Again, in the nome of Ombos, divine honours were paid to the crocodile: in that of Tentyra, it was hunted and
abominated: and between Ombos and Tentyra there existed an internecine feud.
“Ardet adhuc Ombos et Tentyra: summus utrinque
Inde furor vulgo, quod numina vicinorum
Odit uterque locus, cum solos credat habendos
Esse deos, quos ipse colit. Juv. xv. 35.
” The extent and number of the nomes cannot be ascertained. They probably varied with the political state of Egypt. See Smith, art. Ægyptus.
2 See b. xvi. c. ii. § 24.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.