Updated: Feb 10
For the last years of Ramesses II's rule, peace had flourished on the Egyptian frontiers, but these times were changing. A flash revolt in southern Syria was quickly crushed. The Hittite king, Tudhaliya IV, began facing attacks on his northern borders by the Assyrians and sought assistance from Egypt after experiencing a famine from crop failure. Merneptah responded by sending grain.
On the western borders, the Libyans had been quietly infiltrating the Delta. In Year 5, they attempted an invasion while fermenting revolt in Nubia and the western oases. Rapid mobilization and a heavy preemptive strike in the oases brought victory and allowed him to turn south to crush the Nubian revolt.
Merneptah's Victory Hymn
Merneptah built his mortuary temple on the edge of the desert at Thebes. Like many of his predecessors, he was not averse to using earlier buildings as a quarry. His masons turned to the nearby mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. Now largely abandoned, he removed much of it, including a large stele that was turned around to create Merneptah's Victory Hymn. This stele, discovered by Flinders Petrie in 1896, is now also known as the Israel Stele. It contains the earliest textual reference to Israel and the only reference from ancient Egypt. Petrie considered this stone to be his most famous discovery. At dinner that evening Petrie prophesied:
"This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found."
It was the first mention of the word "Israel" in any Egyptian text and the news made headlines when it reached the English papers. The stele is a black granite slab, over 10 feet high, and the inscription states that it was carved in the 5th year of Merneptah. Most of the text glorifies his victories over enemies from Libya and their Sea People allies, but the final two lines mention a campaign in Canaan where Merneptah states he defeated and destroyed Ashkalon, Gezer, Yanoam, and Israel.
'Israel is devastated, her seed is no more.
Palestine has become a widow for Egypt.'
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