Lo, the Nobles Lament, the Poor Rejoice

Lo, grain is lacking on all sides. one is stripped of clothes, unanointed with oil. Everyone says, There is nothing. The storehouse is bare…

Lo, poor men have become men of wealth. he who could not afford sandals owns riches. See, those who owned robes are in rags, he who did not weave for himself owns fine linen…

Lo, hearts are violent, plague sweeps the land, there is blood everywhere, no shortage of dead. Lo, many dead are buried in the river, the stream is the grave, the tomb became stream. Lo, nobles lament, the poor rejoice. Every town says, "Let us expel our rulers…”

Lo, great and small say, “I wish I were dead." Little children say, "He should not have made me live!" Lo, all beasts, their hearts weep, cattle bemoan the state of the land…

- Admonition of Ipuwer
_____

Akhmim
Shemu, 2149 BC

“They call this a feast?” said Senbi. “When I was your age, this would have been no more than a meal. Where is the duck? Where is the roast lamb and honey-beer? Where is the white bread…”

The old man went on – he could go on for hours, when the mood struck him – but Nehesy had stopped listening. He’d heard Senbi’s stories many times, of what the festivals had been like long ago when the Nile was faithful, but such things had passed into memory, and memories couldn’t be eaten. It was a blessing, these days, that there were festivals at all.

And if that was a blessing, should it not be accepted? Yes, the feast of Min was now flat-bread and dates and a scant portion of fish, but it was still a day free from work, a day to celebrate the fertility of the Nile, a day of hope for the future. Let the old men grumble about festivals past, let them damn the half-life that the people lived now, but as the saying went, half alive was better than wholly dead.

A shout from the other end of the field made Nehesy turn away from Senbi, and he saw that the chief priest had entered in the guise of the god. His face was dyed jet-black, far blacker than a Nubian’s; he wore a tall two-horned crown and carried a flail; and a dowel underneath his robes gave the appearance of an immense, erect penis. He walked slowly, waving his flail to the right and left, other priests following in procession and intoning ancient prayers.

“Min!” someone called, and others took up the chant. “Min! Min! Min!” Soon, the rhythmic chant gave way to the god’s hymn. “Min, Lord of the Processions,” the assembly sang, “God of the High Plumes, Son of Osiris and Isis, Venerated in Ipu…”

The god reached the shores of the Nile and stood where he was, looking west across the river. One of the attendant-priests handed him bread and emmer-seeds, which he held aloft briefly before offering them to the waters. “May the Nile repay offering for offering, may the land be fertile, may all the people feast in the coming year.” Nehesy listened, and realized that he’d momentarily forgotten what a sad joke that prayer was. Today of all days, he could hope that it might be answered.

And now it was time for the games to begin. Senbi was saying something about the games of his youth, how men from the delta, from Nubia, even from the land of Punt had come to test their skill at archery and climb the sacred poles. But who would come from Nubia now, with so many warring sepats between here and there? Who would travel all the way from the delta, even if he could? Those things had been possible when all Kemet was ruled by one king, but now there was a king in Mennufer, another in Henen-nesut, and who knew how many sepat-lords and even mayors who claimed the title? Now, the men competing in the games were those of Akhmim and the surrounding countryside, and a few tribesmen in from the desert - them, and no one more.



Still, there were enough. Five men stood next to the poles, waiting for the signal. The poles were fifty feet high, well greased, protruding like phalluses from the very earth, and if all the men reached the top, the inundation would be as high as the poles were. Or so the legend went; it had not been thus for many years.

At a signal, the men began climbing, and the people in the crowd called out the names of their favorites. Everyone wanted the one from their district, their village, to reach the top first. Once, in his youth, Nehesy had been the one to do so, and he still remembered the rewards that had been his that night. He had proven himself the most fertile man in the city, and it followed logically that such fertility must be shared…

“…tomorrow,” came a voice in his ear. He turned, half-embarrassed at the memory that had just been interrupted, and saw that it was Nakhtmin, who was superintendent of the quarrymen’s guild as he was of the weavers. “We can’t wait until then. We must meet tonight, festival or not.”

Nehesy nodded his assent. What Nakhtmin was suggesting was extraordinary, but these were extraordinary times. Only yesterday, the news had come that the sepat-lord and the city governor had been killed in battle against desert bandits; the raiders had been routed, but many militiamen were dead or wounded, and now both sepat and city were without rulers. What’s more, the sepat-lord was a young man, and had no sons.

In times past, the king would have appointed new men to rule in their stead, but now no king had power here. It would be the kenbet, the jury of guildmasters and foremen, who would have to choose the new lord: it had never done so before, but if it didn’t, who would? The answer was as appalling as it was clear: no one would, and Akhmim would become the scrap of meat over which the dogs fought.

“Have you spoken to the priests?” Nehesy asked.

“Yes. They’ve given their blessing. “Bad luck to do business on a festival day, but worse luck to have no lord when the bandits threaten.”

“That’s the choice we have now - bad luck or worse luck.” Nehesy checked himself, realizing how much he was starting to sound like Senbi. “We will meet outside the temple, in the sight of the people.”

Nakhtmin started to say something, but his attention was drawn by another shout from the field. This time it wasn’t for the chief priest, or the men at the poles, or even the footraces that were now beginning: instead, all eyes were on the peasant who had entered at a dead run, in the last stages of exhaustion.

Nehesy strained to hear what the man was saying. “An army is marching!” he heard. “An army marches south from Siut. The sepat-lord marches south to conquer! He has three hundred men, and he is two days away, no more!”

The two men looked at each other: an army marching, their lord dead, and the militia still in the desert. “We don’t meet this evening,” Nehesy said. “We meet now.” He called to his apprentices. “Run to where the militia is, and warn them,” he said to one. “Go now into the field, and find everyone who has been a soldier,” he said to another.

Bad luck or worse. That now was the choice.
 
All right, after thinking about it for a year or so, I’ve decided to try my hand at an ancient Egyptian timeline. Unlike the two other fine Egypt timelines currently active on this forum – and unlike most fiction about ancient Egypt, alternate or not – this one will not involve the New Kingdom. Instead, it will be set during the First Intermediate: specifically, the Ninth, Tenth and early Eleventh Dynasties.

The First Intermediate is a period of between 100 and 140 years (depending on the chronology being used and which dynasties are counted) that followed the fall of the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom had been in decline for some time due to the weak kings of the later Sixth Dynasty and the increasing power of the landholding nobles, and was finished off by the “4.2 kiloyear event,” a period of drought and poor Nile floods during the 22nd century BC. After the Sixth Dynasty fell, Egypt fragmented into numerous petty states ruled by local nobles and warlords, and experienced endemic warfare and famine.

At the same time, some scholars believe that the First Intermediate was a time when rigid social hierarchies collapsed along with the state. The Admonition of Ipuwer, a lamentation widely believed to date from this period, contains the usual complaints about warfare, civil strife and privation, but also bemoans the fact that the servants have become masters, the lowly workers have prospered, “the nobles lament and the poor rejoice.”

Some have argued that these aspects of the Ipuwer papyrus mean that it was not about the First Intermediate at all – after all, why would the poor rejoice during a time of hunger and civil war? Wouldn’t the poor, logically, suffer more than anyone? But Ellen Morris (article here) has put together archaeological evidence to argue that the poor really did become better off after the fall of the Old Kingdom, at least when they didn’t starve. She notes that, for the first time, ordinary Egyptians began building elaborate tombs stocked with a variety of grave goods, that they began to see themselves as partaking of the afterlife independently of the king, and that tomb inscriptions begin to show a greater number of self-made men. Thus, she argues that the First Intermediate was a time of increasing social mobility, one in which “non-elites for the first time experienced numerous social and religious freedoms that had formerly been denied them.”

Morris’ interpretation makes intuitive sense – the collapse of the old regime, and the need to adopt new techniques and forms of administration in order to deal with the ecological crisis, created room for new men and new classes to rise. Chroniclers associated with the old order, as Ipuwer evidently was, would see this as a catastrophe, but for the commoners, the breakdown of social hierarchy might be a silver lining to the cloud of famine and conflict. We know that other places, such as the early Assyrian state, had quasi-republican institutions during the period immediately after the 4.2-kiloyear event, so it’s possible that Egypt would also buck the general Bronze Age pattern of becoming more rigid and hierarchical with time.

This timeline is inspired by the Ipuwer papyrus, and will be an exploration of how far the social upheaval of the First Intermediate might have gone – in particular, whether something akin to republican government might develop, at least at the municipal or provincial level. The basis for such self-government will be the kenbet (see), which – again according to interpretation – was either a panel of judges or a jury of artisans and workers, and which had judicial and minor administrative functions. The kenbet is usually described as a New Kingdom institution, but it probably had earlier antecedents, and may well have originally come into being in order to fill the administrative void caused by weak central rule. In this timeline, I am assuming that a version of the kenbet already existed during the late Sixth Dynasty, and the POD will be its assumption of certain governance functions out of necessity.

This will, in other words, be a world in which Egypt, and not Athens, is the cradle of democracy. It won’t be democracy as we know it – among other things, it will eventually coexist with divine monarchy – and as with other ancient democracies, it will eventually be subverted and subordinated to empire. However, as with Greek democracy in OTL, it will continue to exist as an idea, and will become part of the collective memory conveyed by the Egyptian chronicles. There will also be a new religion, or at least a new interpretation of an ancient cult, and ideals of self-government will maintain a place in ritual even after they are subverted in practice.

There will be at least one historical character involved, although he won’t appear until later.

I’ll give you fair warning that I will update this timeline irregularly – my main project will still be Malê Rising, and I’ll add to this one (like the São Tomé one) as inspiration strikes. I’m also not sure how far I’ll take it – anything beyond a century or two would go beyond speculation into pure fantasy. I may, however, finish up with an epilogue set in the present day.

Anyway, it’s time for the men of Akhmim to defend their city.
 
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This is a very interesting idea and of course pretty brave. Can't imagine it's too easy to tackle, so best of luck.
 
More Egyptian timelines? Soon the board will be dominated... Yes... Muahaha!

In all seriousness, great start. You really bring your attention to detail and excellent research abilities that you demonstrated in Male Rising into this fine body of text.

I'll be watching this like a closeted 70-year-old watches One Direction videos... Secretly...

(basically, that means I've subscribed)
 
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I'm not up on Egyptian class structures, but my understanding is that the social community itself provided the primary labouring class, rather than this body being formed by a combination of emiseration of landed citizens and slave taking from other cultural communites. My understanding is that the elite primarily exists as a disinterested extraction class, and that where they intervene into the local community it is through religious/bureaucratic institutions in order to maintain the system of extraction. In other words: control over labour itself is not central to the system of extraction, and the producing class is in many ways free except for being collectively owned. ie: an "Asiatic mode of production." Correct me if I'm wrong.

What is interesting here is that democracy is cemented by the concept of producer democracy, rather than the democracy of an idle citizenry. Additionally, democracy is produced as a fought innovation, rather than as a revived "traditional" practice.

This is certainly going to do some very strange things to democracy given that guilds function as collective economic institutions, far more than the Ionian fantasy of citizenship. I'm also assuming that this does interesting things with gender, given the productive basis of the democratic impulse.

yours,
Sam R.
 
So basically councils of guild masters is what we're looking at then? Seems a lot like some bits of Renaissance Italy.

In any case a very enjoyable read as always.
 
So basically councils of guild masters is what we're looking at then? Seems a lot like some bits of Renaissance Italy.

In any case a very enjoyable read as always.
My thoughts exactly. Quasi-republican-esque oligarchy. This should be very interesting.
 
Subscribing just because it's your thread, Jonathan! I don't have time to even read it this morning (probably) and might not have any Internet access for most of the next week. If not I want to catch up when I get back.
 
What a perfect timeline for two weeks before the Fourth of July! I'll definitely be following!
 
More Egyptian timelines? Soon the board will be dominated... Yes... Muahaha!
Hey, one can never have too much of the Two Lands :p

Anyway, Jonathan, I will of course be watching this one closely. And unlike with "Malê Rising", I'll actually be able to give input! The idea of the kenbet system giving birth to an alternate form of democracy is intriguing indeed. The idea once occurred to me, actually, but in the context of the Third Intermediate and Late periods (with its organizational hierarchies spilling over into the priesthood that dominated the country in those times), with the ramifications coming into full force during the altered *Saïte period. The idea of setting this TL during the First Intermediate Period is intriguing, though, especially given what the butterflies could do to the civil war and the rise of Waset. Will reunification be delayed or sped up, or will it even fully occur at all? That's the main question on my mind...

Anyway, needless to say I'll be eagerly watching this one like a hawk.
 
Thanks for the support, y'all.

I'm not up on Egyptian class structures, but my understanding is that the social community itself provided the primary labouring class, rather than this body being formed by a combination of emiseration of landed citizens and slave taking from other cultural communites. My understanding is that the elite primarily exists as a disinterested extraction class, and that where they intervene into the local community it is through religious/bureaucratic institutions in order to maintain the system of extraction. In other words: control over labour itself is not central to the system of extraction, and the producing class is in many ways free except for being collectively owned. ie: an "Asiatic mode of production." Correct me if I'm wrong.

What is interesting here is that democracy is cemented by the concept of producer democracy, rather than the democracy of an idle citizenry. Additionally, democracy is produced as a fought innovation, rather than as a revived "traditional" practice.

This is certainly going to do some very strange things to democracy given that guilds function as collective economic institutions, far more than the Ionian fantasy of citizenship. I'm also assuming that this does interesting things with gender, given the productive basis of the democratic impulse.
Social class and economics in ancient Egypt could be funny things, and the ideal wasn't always the practice. The ideal was somewhat as you say: a palace economy with all property theoretically owned by the crown, in which communities would labor on the estates of the king (or a noble or god) in return for support from those estates, and in which the involvement of the upper class was largely bureaucratic and judicial. The fact that the kenbets existed in the first place indicates that the communities were expected to govern themselves on a day-to-day basis while the rulers maintained the command economy. But this sort of totalitarian palace-communism was never all-encompassing, and there were always some de facto privately-owned farms and businesses, and the owners of these enterprises may have involved themselves more closely in labor affairs.

In any event, you are correct that democratic (or quasi-democratic) institutions which are created by associations of craftsmen and producers will be different from those created and managed by a rentier class. Certainly, the idea of work as something demeaning to a man of affairs will not exist here. And gender roles will indeed be affected - women had much higher status in Egypt than in Semitic or Greek cultures to begin with, and the crafts which are dominated by women will have a place in this Egypt's institutions.

So basically councils of guild masters is what we're looking at then? Seems a lot like some bits of Renaissance Italy.
My thoughts exactly. Quasi-republican-esque oligarchy. This should be very interesting.
The guildmasters will start the process and be its initial leaders, because they're the ones with the most to lose in the immediate term, and they believe (correctly) that one of them will be chosen as the new ruler. But the kenbets weren't only guildmasters. The records of Deir el Medina suggest that shop-foremen, artisans and even some skilled workers may have sat on them. This would mean that, while they excluded the lowest of the low and were probably dominated by the scribes and craft-masters, they reached a good way down into the "middle" groups of society.

Deir el Medina was, of course, a New Kingdom site, but I'm assuming for purposes of this timeline that its institutions had earlier antecedents - there's certainly nothing in the records to suggest that the kenbets were anything new - and that something similar existed in the Sixth Dynasty as a means of administering justice in work-sites and neighborhoods during a period of weak central rule. In this timeline, the kenbets will expand their responsibilities to ruling cities and then provinces, and in the process, will undergo changes in their structure and composition. The struggle between the upper and middle levels of society for dominance (or, alternatively, for mutual accommodation) will be part of these changes, as indeed it was in the Renaissance Italian city-states - think popolo grasso and popolo minuto on a Bronze Age stage.

The lowest classes will be brought into the system (after a fashion) somewhat later, through the general emphasis on social justice that arose during the First Intermediate. In OTL, leading men during this period began bragging in their tomb inscriptions about what they have done for the people - feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ferrying the boatless (a somewhat bigger deal in the land of the Nile than it would be elsewhere), etc. By the time the Middle Kingdom began, the kings were doing the same thing, and some have interpreted this to mean that a king was great because of what he had done for his subjects rather than simply because he was king. In this timeline, the hallmarks of justice will also include listening to the people's grievances, which will ultimately imply the existence of some means by which their complaints may be heard. This may not involve actual democratic rights for the peasants and unskilled workers, but it will provide institutions that tie them into the system to some extent.

"Quasi-republican-esque" is probably a good description of how it will work at the beginning. It will evolve over time, though - not always willingly, and not always in the right direction, but it will evolve.

Anyway, Jonathan, I will of course be watching this one closely. And unlike with "Malê Rising", I'll actually be able to give input! The idea of the kenbet system giving birth to an alternate form of democracy is intriguing indeed. The idea once occurred to me, actually, but in the context of the Third Intermediate and Late periods (with its organizational hierarchies spilling over into the priesthood that dominated the country in those times), with the ramifications coming into full force during the altered *Saïte period. The idea of setting this TL during the First Intermediate Period is intriguing, though, especially given what the butterflies could do to the civil war and the rise of Waset. Will reunification be delayed or sped up, or will it even fully occur at all? That's the main question on my mind...
The Third Intermediate makes sense - the kenbets were a well-established institution by then, the Iron Age was more congenial to republics than the Bronze Age, and the priests and later the Saïtes would have some Phoenician and Mesopotamian city-states as examples. That timeline would be one where Egypt developed republican institutions at the same time many other Mediterranean societies did.

I picked the First Intermediate for at least two reasons. I wanted the kenbets to become part of Egyptian institutional culture early on, and to have a central role in the Middle Kingdom (albeit not necessarily the one they started with), so that Egyptians would think of them as one of the things that define Egypt. Also, unlike the later intermediate periods, the First Intermediate seems to be one in which ideas of social justice were formed, and if the Egyptian notion of justice included some form of republican governance, it would be more likely to persist and become a central cultural element.

That, and I like the First Intermediate. I don't know what it says about me that my favorite periods of Egyptian history are those of disunity and chaos, but there you have it.

As for butterflies: I think there eventually will be a Middle Kingdom, because unity was the ideal and because reuniting the Two Lands would be the best way for a new dynasty to establish its legitimacy. It won't necessarily be the Eleventh Dynasty in Waset that creates the Middle Kingdom, though, and depending on who does so, both politics and religion could be quite different.
 
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Thinking more on this; a big part of the seeds of what would become known as the democratic tradition in Greece is that the various greek city-states were, for the most part, independent and autonomous. Yes, various powerful city-states, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, etc., did coerce their neighbors into joining various leagues and alliances and etc., but no grand unifying empire came about until the Macedonians, and by that time the tradition had already been settled. If you're planning on the (re)unification of Egypt as per OTL than I'm not sure if there will be enough time for these semi-republican kenbets to really lay down a strong foundation for later democratic traditions.
 
I was a weaver of humble birth, a maker of fine linen;
By my own merit I became chief of the weavers’ guild.
In the time of troubles, the kenbet chose me as mayor of the city;
By the will of the people was I raised in station.
The kenbet sent me against the army of Siut;
I led the people against the lord of Siut;
With sword in hand I did battle against the invaders…

- Inscription on the tomb of Nehesy at Akhmim (X-XI Dynasty)


_______

“The reward for a job well done,” Nehesy’s father had once told him, “may be silver and gold or it may be bread and beer, but most of the time, it’s another job.”

That was no less true now, in the time of troubles, than it had ever been. Nehesy had been the first to send a runner for the militia, and he’d been the first with a plan to recruit an army from the city, so the kenbet had chosen him to lead that army north. The guildmasters and foremen had conferred the rank of commander on him, there in the sight of the people, and there hadn’t even been much debate about it.

What had been a subject of debate, and which had occupied the kenbet’s business for the next three hours, was whether any other rank should go with it. Some had argued that any man who went north to treat with the sepat-lord of Siut should be a ruler in his own right; at the very least, the mayor of a city. Others - including many of the remaining guildmasters, who hoped to be chosen themselves - argued just as vehemently that the mayor would rule for long after the battle was fought, and that the choice should not be made without more deliberation.

It seemed that the argument might continue until the army of Siut arrived to put an end to it, but finally Nakhtmin had suggested a compromise. "It is the feast of Min," he said. "Let the new mayor serve until the next feast of Min, and let the kenbet and the gods then decide who to raise up in his place." The quarry-foremen and the stonecutters had been quick to agree, and in the sight of the people, the decision had been made.

So here Nehesy was, no longer merely the superintendent of the weavers' guild; now he was governor of Akhmim and leader of its army. All of which might please him more if he had any skill in soldiering.

From the city and the immediately surrounding villages, he had recruited seven hundred men, more than twice as many as he faced. But only a hundred of them were trained soldiers. Another hundred, maybe a few more, had some skill with the hunting bow. The rest had no more idea how to fight a real battle than he had, and were armed with whatever castoff weapons could be found in the city armory, or even with hoes or knives.

And Nehesy himself... try as he might to let the spirit of Horus fill him, he didn't know if he could lead this fight. He knew he couldn't fight this battle the way he might defend his workshop if someone tried to rob it. There were tricks to placing his men, to choosing his ground, to timing his attack, none of which he had learned.

It was, to everyone's surprise, Senbi who knew them.

The old man had once been a lieutenant in the royal army, back in the days of Neferkare who had reigned ninety years and four. He'd grumbled about how the young men today knew nothing of real soldiering, and how the wars now were mere skirmishes compared to the campaigns of the past, but he'd marched with the army, and he'd shown Nehesy what to do. He'd found a place to defend, a hillside north of the new irrigation works where the men of Akhmim would hold the high ground and where boulders would shelter them from the enemy arrows. A real army would have no room to fight on such a field, Senbi had cautioned, but against the sand-flies from Siut, it would do.

And there, just beyond sight of the city, the warriors of Akhmim had waited for two things. One was the remains of the militia, which the messengers said had been warned of the danger and was marching to their relief. The latest runner had put the militia less than an hour away. But that was suddenly a lesser matter than the other thing for which Akhmim waited, the dust cloud that had been visible to the north for some time and which now resolved into the shapes of three hundred soldiers.

The army of Siut had arrived.

The soldiers stood three ranks deep, armed with bows and spears and bearing spotted cowhide shields. At the sight of the defenders, they shouted and jeered, striking their weapons on their shields and then stabbing them viciously in the air. It was a show to scare the enemy, and it was working; Nehesy felt the pit of his stomach drop, and some of the men nearby were visibly quailing.

And then the ranks parted to let the sepat-lord through. The enemy commander had adorned himself with silver bracelets and a gold pectoral studded with turquoises, and carried a bronze mace. As he walked forward, his soldiers’ beating of their spears upon their shields became rhythmic, timed to match each stride. He stopped a hundred yards in front of his army, and an equal distance from the battle line of Akhmim.

“Who commands here?” he said.

Nehesy forced himself to step forward. “I do. I am the mayor of Akhmim, and I bid you return to Siut and leave us in peace.”

“Why do you oppose me?” asked the sepat-lord. “I am loyal to Wakhare-Khety, king in Henen-nesut and rightful Lord of the Two Lands. You have no lord, and are protected by no king. Submit to me, and Wakhare-Khety will protect you.”

“Wakhare-Khety is far away, and you intend to despoil us, not to protect us,” Nehesy answered. “ We need no dog of Siut as our lord, and we can protect ourselves.”

The men of Akhmim's army took courage from these words, but an indescribable sadness struck Nehesy as he said them. Once, all of them would have been men of Kemet, those of Siut no less than those of Akhmim. But that had been when one king ruled and the Two Lands were at peace; now, petty kings contended over scraps of a fallen nation, and the men of Siut were invaders in a foreign country.

"Hear my words, mayor of Akhmim, for you will get your wish," the sepat-lord answered. "I will take your head in this battle, and I will bring it back to Siut with me, and you will not have to endure me as the lord of your city. But its lord I will be."

He turned his back on Nehesy and walked halfway back to his army, and then, as if something had just occurred to him, turned to face Akhmim again. "Why do the men of Akhmim not attack us?" he asked nobody in particular. "Is it that they are cowards, that they are jackals, that they have no courage to defend their city? Are the men of Akhmim women? Are they children and cripples?"

Nehesy saw the men next to him fill with fury at the taunt. He felt the same way, but he realized somehow that as commander, he must keep a clear head. If his men charged down the hillside, as the lord of Siut clearly wanted them to do, they would lose the high ground, and give up the shelter that was all that kept the archers of Siut from mowing them down. He had to say something, and suddenly, he realized what.

"Why should we attack you, dog of Siut?" he answered. "Akhmim is not the city that comes to conquer another. Akhmim is not the city that has broken the peace. If you want to take our city, you must take it from us, here where we stand. And I tell you in the name of Min, god of this city, that if we have done right in his sight, he will give us the victory." He was no priest, to invoke the god, but it seemed wrong that the men of the city should go to fight without its patron deity being called upon. And he had just said it - if he had done rightly, the defenders would win.

The men who'd been preparing to charge now checked themselves, venting their fury by crying out the names of their god and city and by waving their weapons in the air as they had seen the enemy do. "Very well, then," said the lord of Siut. "On your head be it." He signaled to his army, and they shouted in unison and charged forward.



On the crest of the hill, the men of Akhmim who had bows reached into their quivers. When the first of the Siut soldiers were a hundred yards away, they loosed, sending arrow after arrow into the enemy ranks. Many of the arrows missed, and others stuck harmlessly in the enemy's shields, but others fell with cries of pain, and the men of Siut shouted in fury that they could not respond in kind. Their ranks became ragged; they were a mob rather than an army. But they charged on.

The warriors of Akhmim were climbing onto the boulders now, clustering on the highest ground where those who had spears or hoes could stab down with them. Nehesy drew his dagger and did likewise. In front of him, he saw one of his neighbors strike downward with a pole to foul the enemy's shield, while another thrust his spear into the now-open foe. The sound of clashing weapons, and shouts of fury and of pain, were erupting all along the hillside.

Nehesy leaped forward in search of an enemy to engage, looking around as he did so to see how the fight was going. In the center, where many of the defenders had military training, the line was holding; the men of Akhmim were using their advantage in numbers to counter the enemy's better weaponry. But to the left and right, where they were badly armed and many of them were unshielded, even a two or three-to-one edge looked like it might not be enough. The soldiers of Siut had regrouped from the arrow storm, and were attacking the knots of men on boulders in disciplined ranks, covering each other with their shields and hacking down defenders whenever they saw an opening. The warriors of Akhmim fought furiously, but a few of them were starting to give way, and Nehesy called to some of the trained soldiers to reinforce them before they all did so.

And then he had no more time to consider the progress of the battle, because the lord of Siut was before him. "Remember what I promised," the enemy commander snarled, and swung his mace in a blow that would shatter Nehesy's skull like an eggshell if it landed. He threw up his shield to receive the blow and barely managed to turn it, only to face a new strike from another direction.

Nehesy fought desperately, parrying the sepat-lord's blows and trying to stab his foe with his dagger, but the lord of Siut always seemed to anticipate his strokes. The enemy was forcing him back toward the edge of the boulder, and although he tried to push back with his shield, he was falling back inexorably. He knew that when he stumbled, he would die, and he hoped Ma'at would judge him kindly.

But then there was a shout of consternation from the enemy army, and the sound of many arrows flying. Even in his desperation, Nehesy realized what must have happened: the militia had come, and eighty strong, they were attacking the Siut army's rear.

The enemy commander realized the same thing. For a second, he turned to see what had taken his army by surprise - and for that second, he left himself unguarded. Nehesy's dagger seemed to know what to do before he did: his right arm stabbed forward, and the weapon buried itself in the sepat-lord's heart. Nehesy's foe had only a moment to realize he had been killed, and to the end of his days, Nehesy would never know who was the more surprised: the sepat-lord of Siut, or himself.

"The lord of Siut is dead!" It was Nehesy's voice shouting, but he couldn't recall consciously forming the words. And with their commander dead, and with the militia of Akhmim reinforcing the defenders, the invading army had lost its will for the fight. Their officers shouted to them to disengage, and they retreated in formation, as if daring the army of Akhmim to stop them. Something told Nehesy that if he tried, his soldiers would be fighting on the enemy's ground, and the retreating ranks could as easily turn and grind his men up, so he called to the exhausted defenders to halt. A few minutes later, the men of Siut had made good their departure, leaving forty men dead on the hillside.

Nehesy sat down heavily beside his slain enemy, more drained by thirty minutes of battle than by a whole day at the loom. He'd have to get used to thinking like a commander and a mayor - all the men of the kenbet would. He'd have to organize military training and patrols, and send emissaries north to seek peace with Wakhare-Khety. He'd have to take stock of trade with the desert tribes, and make sure that the superintendent of the irrigation-works was doing his job, and find out who in the sepat needed grain to last them through akhet...

But all that could wait for another day.

_______
… With sword in hand I slew the lord of Siut;
With sword in hand I chased the army of Siut;
By the favor of the god, the kenbet and the people defeated Siut;
And six times more did they raise me to office.
And in my time, grain from the city’s fields was given to feed the hungry
And linen from my own loom to clothe the naked…
 
Thinking more on this; a big part of the seeds of what would become known as the democratic tradition in Greece is that the various greek city-states were, for the most part, independent and autonomous. Yes, various powerful city-states, such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, etc., did coerce their neighbors into joining various leagues and alliances and etc., but no grand unifying empire came about until the Macedonians, and by that time the tradition had already been settled. If you're planning on the (re)unification of Egypt as per OTL than I'm not sure if there will be enough time for these semi-republican kenbets to really lay down a strong foundation for later democratic traditions.
Fair point. I did say, though, that the reunification of Egypt won't happen the same way as OTL. What I'm planning is for the "warring states" period to last longer - the defeat of Siut, which was an important vassal of the kings at Henen-nesut (Herakleopolis Magna) will weaken that state and allow rival dynasties in the Nile Delta to gain strength, and there will also be several centers of power in the south. In OTL, the First Intermediate resolved fairly quickly into a struggle between northern and southern dynasties; this timeline's First Intermediate will remain multipolar for a longer time, and will give republican institutions more chance to take root in the cities and provinces that adopt them.

And on another topic, the next Malê Rising update will likely be tomorrow evening - this one's been slow for whatever reason, but I've mostly worked my way through it.
 
In this period what were the provincial nobility like? Would there be any minor rural nobility about to give Nehesy headaches?
 
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