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Ancient Plague

18 June 2020
Ancient history

Jovan Kesic on 30th March 2020, posted a reply to the idea that plague was rampant in the time of Akhnaton and Tutankhamon, suggesting there might have been plague in Egypt even earlier, during the reign of Amenophis III, father of Akhnaton and otherwise considered the apogee of the Egyptian empire period. There was an unprecedented number of statues of Sekhmet erected, sometimes avenues of them, installed at palaces and temples throughout the whole land of Egypt. Sekhmet was a goddess of destruction, associated with flaming fire (according to Ramses III around 150 years later). However, Sekhmet was also a goddess with a strong association with plague – and epidemics may have been a feature at the site of El Amarna, the city built in the time of Akhnaton. Recent excavations of a cemetery there have shown a lot of people were suffering from malnutrition and illness, two sides of the same coin. Plague may well have caused such symptoms. Han Goedicke, wrote a paper, 'The Canaanite Illness' where he said there was tenuous evidence for an outbreak of the plague towards the end of dynasty 18. Velikovsky famously referred to plague in the time of Akhnaton in one of his books, 'Oedipus and Akhnaton.' Goedicke says there was premature deaths in the royal family; the departure from Thebes to Amarna in the late reign of Amenophis III and that of Akhnaton and Tutankhamon; and the construction of Amarna might be seen as an attempt to quarantine people. An epidemic of some kind also raged in the Hittite lands (see 'Plague Prayers of Mursilis'). After a clash between Suppiluliumas and pharaonic forces in what is now southern Lebanon the Hittite army returned to Hattusas with prisoners of war. This introduced the plague into the heart of the Hittite lands where it raged for a couple of decades, killing Suppiluliumas and his eldest son, his successor. There is also some indication that plague also affected Babylon. Certainly, a Babylonian princess, a wife of Amenophis III, is said to have died from a plague in one of the letters found at Amarna. The Babylonian dynasty is marked by several deaths in quick succession, followed by a coup that  removed one of the incumbents. Ira Friedman in 'Amenhotep III and the Exodus' drew a parallel between the plague of the Biblical Exodus story and that of Amenophis (Amenhotep). Arielle Kozloff, an Egyptologist, claims the reign of Amenophis III experienced a prolonged pause in otherwise heavy documentation. The gap indicates a national crisis, she said, possibly as a result of an epidemic. Later, Ramses III invoked Setnakht in her role as a war goddess, dispensing fire and destruction upon his enemies. This is generally thought to be hyperbole, the pharaoh invoking the goddess as going before his army. There are many instances of this in pharaonic and Assyrian war annals, as the king or pharaoh was  also the embodiment, on earth, of the god or goddess in the heavens. In this instance it involves fire and destruction which appears to have gone before his enemies on the frontiers of the Egyptian  border in Syria (at that time). Is this a clue to a natural disaster of some kind at the end of the LB age. For example, one of his predecessors, who also fought a mixed bag of invaders, Merenptah, claimed in one of his inscriptions, the star Anat had fallen on the Hittite lands. This appears to coincide with the demise of Hattusas, by fire and destruction. It was people displaced by this that turn up at the border of Egypt in the time of Ramses III. Hence, the mention of Sekhmet by both Amenophis III and by Ramses III, 150 years later, refers to events in the natural world, plague and meteors.

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