The Seven Years' Famine
After seven years of drought and with his people suffering from famine, King Tcheser seeks help from the Nile gods.
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In the eighteenth year of the King Tcheser (the third king of the third dynasty), the whole region of the South, the Island of Elephantine, and the district of Nubia were ruled by the high official Mater. The king sent a messenger to Mater telling him that he was troubled because for seven years the Nile had not flooded. As the result of this, the grounds were infertile and crops of every kind were very difficult to grow. Grains and vegetables were in short supply, and the people had no food to eat.
In this terrible trouble, King Tcheser remembered the god Imhotep, the son of Ptah of the South Wall, who had once delivered Egypt from a similar calamity. Since his help was no longer available, Tcheser asked his governor Mater to tell him where the Nile rose, and which god or goddess was its patron.
In answer to this message, Mater immediately made his way to the king and gave him the information. He told him that the Nile flood came forth from the Island of Elephantine whereon stood the first city that ever existed. The guardian of the flood is Khnemu, and it was he who holds the flood in.
Mater next went on to describe the temple of Khnemu at Elephantine and told his royal master that the other gods in were Sopdet, Anqet, Hapi, Shu, Geb, Nut, Osiris, Horus, Isis and Nephthys, and after this he listed the various products that were found in the parish, and which offerings ought to be made to Khnemu. When the King heard these words he offered up sacrifices to the gods and went into his temple to ask for Khnemus help.
Finally Khnemu appeared before him, and said, "I am Khnemu the Creator. My hands rest upon thee to protect thy person, and to make sound thy body. I gave thee thine heart... I am he who created himself. I am the primaeval watery abyss, and I am the Nile who riseth at his will to give health for me to those who toil. I am the guide and director of all men, the Almighty, the father of the gods, Shu, the mighty possessor of the Earth."
Finally the god promised that the Nile should rise every year, as in olden time, and described the good which should come upon the land when he had made an end of the famine. When Khnemu finished speaking, King Tcheser remembered that the god had complained that no one had taken the trouble to repair his shrine, even though plenty of stone lay nearby. He immediately issued a decree in which it was ordered that some land on each side of the Nile near Elephantine should be set apart for the endowment of the temple of Khnemu, and that a tax should be levied upon every product of the parish, and devoted to the maintenance of the priesthood of the god Khnemu. The text of the decree was written upon wood, and as this was not lasting, the King ordered that a copy of it should be cut upon a stone tablet which should be set in a prominent place.
Last updated on: Monday 3rd September 2018