Egyptian perspectives: Manetho on Egyptian Matters (early third century BCE)

Authors: Manetho (FGrHist / BNJ 609), Egyptian Matters and On Antiquity and Pious Matters as preserved in a variety of ancient authors (link to Waddell’s collection of the fragments)

Comments: Although he does not tell us himself, it seems that the Egyptian Manetho may have been a priest or scribe in the temple at Heliopolis or at Sebennytos. Manetho’s works are now lost and need to be pieced together from fragmentary citations by others. This post is about Manetho’s ethnographic approach to describing his own ethnic group, the Egyptians and other peoples active in Egypt, such as the Hyksos. Manetho’s  ethnographic take on Judeans, for instance, will be found in another category in the sidebar (category 2). In his Chronography, Synkellos (p.29, line 8) — who read the entire work and not just the fragments we have — states that both “Berossos and Manetho wished to make their own peoples famous.”  There is likely truth in this comment by a much later Christian author, despite the critical edge.

Manetho’s work, although fragmentary, has clear signs that he aimed to show key contributions that Egyptian figures made to the development of civilization overall. Much like Berossos (in connection with Babylonians), there are hints of an underlying competition among ethnic groups, so to speak, with Manetho making special claims for Egyptian preeminence. For the work Egyptian Matters, this can be seen in the brief citations by others in which certain pharaohs are noted (by Manetho, originally) as contributing towards advancements in society and culture (see the italicized portions of the series of reigns).

The citations of Manetho’s work On Antiquity and Pious Matters in some sense fits with this but in others seems quite odd (at least if the aim is to avoid what a Greek would call “barbaric” customs being attributed to Egyptians). Basically, in the process of stating that Amosis made an important contribution to move society forward, Manetho apparently states that Egyptians at Heliopolis, at least, had before this king engaged in human sacrifice on a regular basis. There are some nuances, then, to Manetho’s presentation of his own people based on the very fragmentary remains we have.

Source of the translation: W.G. Waddell, Manetho, LCL (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1940), public domain, adapted by Harland (unless otherwise stated).


Manetho, Egyptian Matters

FGrHist / BNJ 609 fragment 1 (= Waddell, fragment 42; Josephus, Against Apion 1.73 [late first century CE]; translation by Harland

Manetho belonged to the Egyptian descent group (genos) and was also proficient in Greek learning, as is clear, for he wrote in Greek an inquiry into his homeland. As he himself says, this was a translation from the sacred books. In this work he accuses Herodotos of being misled through ignorance on many points of Egyptian matters.

FGrHist / BNJ 609 fragment 2, on contributions to civilization by specific pharaohs (from Synkellos, Chronography p. 99, lines 11-144, 16 [ninth century CE] – Manetho’s claim to specific contributions to civilization by particular kings are italicized below; translation adapted from Waddell)

Since a knowledge of the periods of the Egyptian dynasties from Mestraim​ down to Nektanabo​ is on many occasions useful for those who occupy themselves with chronological investigations, and since the dynasties taken from the writings of Manetho are presented by ecclesiastical historians with discrepancies in respect both to the names of the kings and the length of their reigns, and also as to who was king when Joseph was governor of Egypt and, after him, in which of those reigns Moses, who saw God, led the Hebrews in their exodus from Egypt, I have judged it necessary to select two of the most famous recensions and to set them side by side – I mean the accounts of Africanus and of the later Eusebios, the so-called “son” of Pamphilos – so that with proper application one may understand the opinion which approaches nearest to scriptural truth. It must, above all, be strictly understood that Africanus increases by 20 years the period from Adam to the Flood, and instead of 2242 years he makes it out to be 2262 years, which appears to be incorrect. On the other hand, Eusebios keeps to the sound reckoning of 2242 years in agreement with scripture. . . [biblical chronological information omitted].

On the dynasties of Egypt [after the flood] according to Africanus [who is citing Manetho]: (1) In succession to the spirits of the dead, the half-gods, the first royal house​ numbers eight kings, the first of whom Menes​ of [the settlement of] This​ reigned for 62 years. He was carried off by a hippopotamus​ and died. (2) Athothis, his son, reigned for 57 years. He built the palace at Memphis,​ and his anatomical works are extant, for he was a physician. (3) Kenkenes, his son, reigned for 31 years. (4) Uenephes, his son, reigned for 23 years. In his reign a great famine seized Egypt, and erected the pyramids near Kochome.​ (5) Usaphaidos,​ his son, reigned for 20 years. . .

The third dynasty comprised nine kings of Memphis. (1) Necherophes reigned for 28 years. In his reign the Libyans revolted against Egypt, and when the moon waxed beyond reckoning, they surrendered in terror. (2) Tosorthros, reigned for 29 years. <In his reign lived Imuthes,> who because of his medical skill has the reputation of Asclepios among the Egyptians, and who was the inventor of the art of building with hewn stone. He also devoted attention to writing. (3) Tyreis reigned for 7 years. (4) Mesochris reigned for 17 years. (5) Souphis reigned for 16 years. (6) Tosertasis reigned for 19 years. (7) Aches reigned for 42 years. (8) Sephuris reigned for 30 years. (9) Kerpheres reigned for 26 years. . .

The fourth dynasty​ comprised eight kings of Memphis, belonging to a different line: (1) Soris reigned for 29 years. (2) Suphis [I] reigned for 63 years. Suphis put together the largest pyramid, which Herodotos says was built by Cheops. . . (3) Suphis [II] reigned for 66 years. (4) Mencheres reigned for 63 years. (5) Ratoises reigned for 25 years. (6) Bicheris reigned for 22 years. (7) Sebercheres reigned for 7 years. (8) Thamphthis reigned for 9 years. . .

The ninth dynasty​ consisted of nineteen kings of Herakleopolis, who reigned for 409 years. The first of these, King Achthoes, behaving more cruelly than his predecessors, committed crimes against the people of all Egypt, but afterwards he went mad and was killed by a crocodile. . .

From the second book of Manetho: The twelfth dynasty​ consisted of seven kings of Diospolis. (1) Sesonchosis, son of Ammanemes, for 46 years. (2) Ammanemês, for 38 years: he was murdered by his own eunuchs.​ (3) Sesostris, reigned for 48 years: in nine years he subdued the whole of Asia and Europe as far as Thrace, everywhere erecting memorials regarding the nature of the peoples (ethnē). For excellent populations [he conquered], he engraved the male genitalia; for inferior populations, he engraved female genitalia. Accordingly he was considered as next in rank to Osiris by the Egyptians. (4) Lamares, reigned for 8 years: he built the Labyrinth​ in the Arsinoites district (nome) as his own tomb. (5) Ameres, reigned for 8 years. (6) Ammenemes, reigned for 8 years. (7) Scemiophris, his sister, reigned for 4 years.

(1) The fifteenth dynasty consisted of shepherd kings [see the description of the Hyksos further below]. There were six foreign kings from Phoenicia,​ who seized Memphis: in the Sethroite district (nome) they founded a town, from which base they subdued Egypt. . . The sixteenth dynasty were shepherd kings again, 32 in number: they reigned for 518 years. . . The seventeenth dynasty​ were shepherd kings again, 43 in number, and kings of Thebes or Diospolis, 43 in number. . .


Book 2

FGrHist / BNJ 609 fragment 8, on the Hyksos people (= Waddell, fragment 42, Josephus, Against Apion 1.74-92; translation adapted from Waddell).

[In book one of Against Apion, Josephus cites the written records of neighbouring peoples, including the Egyptian records reported by Manetho, to prove of the antiquity of the Judeans. It is Josephos, and not likely Manetho, who associates the Hyksos with Judeans]

(74) In the second book on Egyptian Matters, this writer Manetho speaks about us [Judeans, according to Josephos’ intrerpretation] as follows. I will quote his own words, just as if I had brought forward the man himself as a witness:

(75) “Whose name was Timaios [text is corrupt]. In his reign – for what reason I know not – a blast of God struck us and, unexpectedly, invaders of an obscure descent group (genos) from the regions of the East marched in confidence of victory against our land. By main force they easily seized it without striking a blow. (76) After overpowering the rulers of the land, they then burned our cities ruthlessly, razed the temples of the gods to the ground, and treated all the natives with a cruel hostility, massacring some and leading into slavery the wives and children of others. (77) Finally, they appointed as king one of their own whose name was Salitis, who had his seat at Memphis, levying tribute from Upper and Lower Egypt and always leaving garrisons behind in the most advantageous positions. Above all, he fortified the district to the east, foreseeing that the Assyrians,​ as they grew stronger, would one day would want to attack his kingdom. (78) He established a city in the Sethroïte district (nome​) that was very favourably situated on the east of the Bubastite branch​ of the Nile, and called it Auaris​ based on an ancient story about the gods. This place he rebuilt and fortified with massive walls, planting there a garrison of as many as 240,000 heavy-armed men to guard his frontier. (79) Here he would come in summer-time, partly to serve out rations and pay his troops, partly to train them carefully in manoeuvres and so strike terror into foreign tribes. (80) After reigning for 19 years, Salitis died, and a second king, named Bnon, succeeded and reigned for 44 years. Next to him came Apachnan, who ruled for 36 years and 7 months;​ then Apôphis for 61 and Iannas for 50 years and 1 month. (81) Then finally Assis reigned for 49 years and 2 months. These six kings, their first rulers, were ever more and more eager to exterminate the root of Egypt.”

(82) Their people (ethnos) as a whole was called “Hyksos,” that is ‘shepherd-kings’: for hyk in the sacred language means ‘king’, and sos in common speech is ‘shepherd’ or ‘shepherds.’ This is where the compound word ‘Hyksos’ came from. Some say that they were Arabs. . .

(84) According to Manetho, these kings whom I have outlined above, along with their descendants, ruled over the so-called “shepherds” and dominated Egypt for 511 years.​ (85) Afterwards, he says, there came a revolt of the kings of the Thebaid region and the rest of Egypt against the shepherds, and a fierce and prolonged war broke out between them. (86) By a king whose name was Misphragmuthosis,​ the shepherds, he says, were defeated, driven out of all the rest of Egypt and confined in a region measuring within its circumference 10,000 arurai,​ by name Auaris. (87) According to Manetho, the shepherds enclosed this whole area with a high, strong wall, in order to safeguard all their possessions and spoils. (88) He says that Thummosis, the son of Misphragmuthosis, attempted by siege to force them to surrender, blockading the fortress with an army of 480,000 men. Finally, giving up the siege in despair, he concluded a treaty by which they should all depart from Egypt and go unharmed where they wanted. (89) On these terms the shepherds, with their possessions and households complete (no fewer than 240,000 persons) left Egypt and journeyed over the desert into Syria. (90) There, dreading the power of the Assyrians who were at that time masters of Asia, they built in the land now called Judea a city large enough to hold all those thousands of people, and gave it the name of Jerusalem.

(91) In another book of his Egyptian Matters, Manetho says that this people of so-called shepherds is, in the sacred books of Egypt, described as “captives,” and his statement is correct. In fact, with our earliest ancestors, it was a hereditary custom to feed sheep, and since they lived a nomadic life, they were called “shepherds.” (92) On the other hand, in the Egyptian records they were not unreasonably styled “captives,” since our ancestor Joseph told the king of Egypt that he was a captive and later, with the king’s consent, summoned his brothers to Egypt. But I [Josephos] shall investigate this subject more fully in another place.


Manetho, On Antiquity and Pious Matters

FGrHist / BNJ 609 fragment 14, on Amosis’ elimination of human sacrifice (= Waddell, fragment 85, from Porphyry of Tyre, On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.55).

The rite of human sacrifice​ at the city of Helios (Heliopolis)​ in Egypt was suppressed by Amosis, as Manetho testifies in his book On Antiquity and Pious Matters.​ Men were sacrificed to Hera: they were examined, like the pure calves which are sought out and marked with a seal. Three men used to be sacrificed each day. Amosis ordered that the same number of waxen images should be offered instead.

FGrHist / BNJ 609 fragment 22, on Amosis’ elimination of human sacrifice (= Waddell, fragment 86, from Plutarch, Isis and Osiris 73).

Now many say that the soul of Typhon himself is diffused among these animals. This fable would seem to hint that every irrational and bestial nature is partaker of the evil spirit and that, while seeking to conciliate and appraise him, men tend and worship these animals. If a long and severe drought occurs, bringing with it an excess of deadly diseases or other strange and unaccountable calamities, the priests lead off some of the sacred animals quietly and in silence under cover of darkness, threatening them at first and trying to frighten them. But if the visitation continues, they consecrate the animals and slaughter them, intending to inflict a kind of punishment on the spirit, or at least to offer a great atonement for very serious offences. Moreover, in the city of Eileithyia [i.e. Heliopolis], as Manetho has related, they used to burn men alive, calling them “Typhon’s followers.” They would winnow and scatter their ashes until they were completely gone. But this was done openly and at a set time, namely in the hottest season. The consecrations of sacred animals are secret ceremonies, taking place at irregular intervals as occasion demands. This is unknown to the common people except when the priests celebrate a funeral of Apis and, displaying some of the animals, cast them together into the tomb in the presence of all, believing that they are vexing Typhon in return and curtailing his delight.

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