The Dictionary

– F –

FARAS. Site in Nubia to the north of the Second Cataract. The earliest large structure is a fortress of the 12th Dynasty, probably of the reign of Senusret I. It is perhaps that named Khesef Medjau in the Ramesseum Papyri. In the reign of Tutankhamun, in the late 18th Dynasty, Faras was the principal administrative center of the viceroy with a walled town (but not, apparently, fortress). After a long period with no or little occupation, it became a major town and administrative center of the Meroitic period and later the seat of a Christian bishop.

FAYUM. Large oasis to the west of the Nile and connected to it by the Bahr Yusuf. In the earlier periods, the lake (Lake Qarun or Lake Fayum) occupied much of the basin, but this gradually reduced in size and the land was reclaimed for cultivation, most notably in the early Ptolemaic period. The principal town was Shedyt, known in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods as Krokodilopolis (after its patron crocodile god, Sobek), and Arsinoe. There is evidence for land grants to mercenary troops in the southern Fayum and adjacent part of the Nile Valley. The place names, Per-Baalat, Shasu and Pen-shasu, Per-Khaset, Kharu and Na-kharu, and the theophoric personal names Reshpu, Baal-her-khepeshef, Baal-Monthu, and Meher-Seth, all indicate the presence of Asiatics. There were many grants of land in the Fayum to veterans. In the Ptolemaic period, these were distinguished as cleruchs and machimoi.

The Fayum presented a considerable desert frontier, and there is evidence from the Ptolemaic period of desert patrols operating from some of its southern towns. A defensive wall has been identified between the Nile Valley and the Fayum at Rikka. At the western end of Lake Fayum was the Roman fortress at Dionysias (Qasr Qarun).

FIRMUS (c. 272 AD). According to the notoriously unreliable Historia Augusta, Firmus was a rich merchant in Alexandria, who was proclaimed emperor, but defeated by Aurelian. This brief incident was generally accepted by historians, but has been challenged by Alan Bowman. There are records of some trouble in Alexandria at this time, but not a full revolt. The name of Firmus given to the usurper by the Historia Augusta might be through confusion with an official named Claudius Firmus, named in papyrus documents.

FLIES. The gold fly was given as a military decoration and reward, presumably because the insect’s persistence symbolized a soldier’s valor. Flies are specified as rewards in the inscription of Ahmosepen-Nekhbet.

FOOD. The prejudiced record of scribal didactic literature (such as the Anastasi Papyri) implies that soldiers’ rations were meager and unpleasant. They claim that the grain ration was not fit for grinding, and that water was available only every third day, and then it was smelly and salty. Other papyrus texts say that the soldier was obliged to carry his food and water. As products of elite schools, these literary sources emphasize the advantages of being a member of the elite and the harshness of life for others.

On a long march into Asia, rations could have been supplemented by forage, and there is evidence that the army divisions were spread so as to allow the following divisions a share. After the siege and capture of Megiddo, the Annals of Thutmose III accounts the number of sacks of wheat taken from the harvest of the town’s fields, specifically excepting that which had been cut as forage. A scene in the tomb of Tjanuni, an army scribe of the time of Thutmose IV, shows cattle being herded for consumption by troops. The inscriptions of Thutmose I suggest that the troops in the fortress of Sai in southern Nubia were grazing their cattle in the better territory of the Kushite “enemy.” Excavations in the fortress at Uronarti found wooden ration tokens for loaves of bread, showing a highly organized distribution of supplies by the bureaucracy. From the evidence, it appears that the daily basic ration of a soldier in the Middle Kingdom was 10 loaves of bread. A quarrying text of the 20th Dynasty records the bread ration, supplemented by three jars of beer, two portions of meat, and three cakes.

There are inscriptions recording the sinking and clearing of wells in desert locations for use of quarrying expeditions, and doubtless wells associated with fortresses were carefully maintained. The scene in the temple of Karnak showing the fortifications of the Ways of Horus includes seven wells. They are depicted as small lakes.

FORTIFICATIONS. Egypt had many fortifications, of which fortresses were only a part. Not all fortifications were military, although they had the potential to be. Fortification served as defense in times of internal strife but was also protection against the annual inundation of the Nile. Fortifications primarily protected elite/ceremonial centers and centers of wealth. Fortifications of various types were used as protection of the borders and other vulnerable parts of the country. They might consist of a single fortress or chain of fortresses, networks of watchtowers, walls, and canals. Although it is correct to say that Egypt had natural defenses against invasion by foreign armies, in the form of the cataracts (in the south), and the difficult access along the Via Maris or Ways of Horus and the desert, the Nile Valley was actually open all of its length to the incursions of smaller groups of nomadic or semi-nomadic peoples. There were numerous vulnerable points at the ends of wadis and desert roads, many of which doubtless had small watchtowers. There is evidence from different periods of military officials whose function was to observe and control those entering and leaving the Nile Valley. There were Ptolemaic and Roman desert patrols from the towns of the Fayum.

Several hieroglyphic signs represent walled enclosures and settlements. A circle divided into four segments by two crossed lines is the word for “town” (niut). More formal rectangular enclosures with a second rectangle in one corner represent religious and royal precincts (hūt). There is archaeological evidence for enclosing walls around some Pre- and Early-Dynastic settlements such as Abu and el-Kab (Nekheb). At Abu (Elephantine), the circular enclosure had a wavy wall. Some settlements of the New Kingdom in Nubia also had enclosure walls (e.g., Aksha, Sesebi, Amara West), as did all of the principal temple and palace complexes in Egypt. There has been too little archaeological work in the major cities, such as Thebes or Memphis, to show whether they had large city-walls, but there are references to the walls of the cities of Thebes and Sau, and the early city of Memphis was called Inbu-hedj, meaning the “White Walls” or “White Fort.” Certainly, settlements within the flood plain needed protection from the waters of the inundation, if not for military defense. However, settlement would doubtless have spread outside of the protective walls. Massive mud-brick walls do survive surrounding many temple enclosures, such as Karnak and Medinet Habu, and in palatial complexes, such as the palace of Apries at Memphis and the royal palace in the northern part of the city of Akhetaten (Amarna). The elite houses at Amarna also had enclosure walls—probably because they were used for the storage of large quantities of foodstuffs.

There are Egyptian words for different types of fortified structures and in the later periods Greek and Aramaic words, some of which were equated with the earlier Egyptian. One word for a “fortress” was resit, which originally might have meant “watchtower” or “guardhouse,” deriving from the verb “to watch.” Its meaning was extended and can be found in Ptolemaic texts equating with the Greek word polis, a town. Resit also equates to the Aramaic word byrta, in documents relating to Aswan. The word tjesmet was perhaps originally a crenellated parapet, but came to mean a rampart. Its use related to military structures and the walls surrounding temple enclosures. The word khetem (from the verb “to seal”) was generally used for fortresses (such as Tjaru); menenu is also used. The words nakhtu, a “stronghold” (from nakht “strong”), and bekhen (also used for the pylon towers at the entrance to temples) are also found and presumably had specific meaning. The Semitic term for a tower, migdol, was adopted into the Egyptian language and is found referring to a number of Ramesside fortresses. Greek words that appear in documents of Ptolemaic date are Phulake, a watchtower, and hypaithron, a military camp. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine precisely what some of these terms mean.

FORTRESS, ARCHAEOLOGY. Well-preserved fortresses of Middle and New Kingdom date survived in Nubia until the building of the High Dam at Aswan (begun in 1960). These fortresses, mostly surrounding the Second Cataract, have been excavated and recorded. They fall into a number of different categories. There were large supply depots at the foot of the cataract (e.g., Buhen and Mirgissa), whereas smaller garrisons on islands and the west bank controlled passage through the cataract (Semna and Kumma) or acted as signaling stations (e.g., Shalfak, Uronarti). One fort, Askut, seems to have served as a protected island grain supply.

Fortresses in other parts of Egypt have only more recently been examined and are predominantly of the later periods. The earliest fortress-type structures in Egypt are at Abydos, the Shunet el-Zebib, and the town walls of Abu and Nekhen. An Old Kingdom fort has been excavated at Ain Asil in Dakhla Oasis. The wall connecting Aswan and the First Cataract, perhaps to be identified with Senmut, is contemporary with the Nubian fortresses. The fortress at Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham and the enclosure walls and Migdol gateway of Medinet Habu are the best-preserved examples of the New Kingdom in Egypt, although many of the Nubian fortresses were restored and altered. Ramesside defenses in the eastern Delta have been identified at Deir el-Balah and Haruvit. A migdol is known at Jebel Abu-Hassa between Suez and the Bitter Lakes. The troubled Third Intermediate Period saw construction of fortresses in Egypt, notably at el-Hiba (Teudjoi), which marked the northern limit of the territory of Thebes. A massive enclosure wall around the town of Nekheb (el-Kab) could also belong to this period.

A number of large mud-brick structures of the Saite period were identified as forts because they shared a massive cellular construction. Flinders Petrie identified one at Tell Dafana, which he thought was the fortress described by Herodotos as Daphnae. Similar construction was found in the Palace of Apries at Memphis and at Naukratis. Re-examination of these sites indicates that they are not necessarily military, and that the cellular construction was to support stone floors. Certain Late Period forts are known at Tell Qedwa and Dorginarti, Migdol (Tell el Heir), and Pelusion. The fort at Qasr el-Ghueida in Kharga Oasis is probably of Persian date in origin, although the existing structure could be largely Roman in date.

Roman forts in Egypt received relatively little archaeological attention until quite recently. There are many well-preserved large forts of third–fourth century date, some certainly of the reign of Diocletian. In addition, there are smaller watchtowers. These are scattered over the Eastern Desert protecting routes to the Red Sea and the quarries at Mons Porphyrites and Mons Claudianus. There are forts in Kharga Oasis at ed-Deir, el-Qasr, el-Gib, el-Someira, and Qasr el-Ghueida. In the Fayum, the most important fortress was at Dionysias. Persian in origin, but largely Roman as it survives; the fortress of Babylon protected the access to Memphis from the Delta and Wadi Tumilat. In Thebes, the Roman fortress surrounded the temple of Luxor. The most important Roman fort was Nikopolis 3.5 kilometers east of Alexandria, but nothing of it survives.

FORTRESS, ARCHITECTURE. The Old Kingdom fortress at Ain Asil in Dakhla Oasis was a mud-brick enclosure with circular corner bastions (only that at the southwest corner was preserved) and semicircular bastions along the walls. The entrance was in the center of the north wall and was protected by projecting walls. It appears to have been regularly planned. The Middle Kingdom fortresses in Nubia have many features in common, doubtless because they were designed, if not by one architect, then as a single defensive system. They all have massive walls of sun-dried mud brick, strengthened internally with timbers and matting and lined externally with bastions and towers. The evidence of models and depictions suggests that walls were crenellated. Loopholes allowed archers to protect the walls from attack. Access to the main walls of the fort was impeded by a berm and deep, wide, dry ditch. The main entrances to the fortress were through gateways of similar design, usually comprising three gates and two baffle courtyards. The fortresses conformed to the lie of the land on which they were built. In the cataract region, this could be an island or prominence, resulting in triangular or irregularly shaped forts with long spur walls as added protection. Irrespective of the overall plan, the internal arrangements were regular, with a main street and buildings in rectangular (sometimes truncated) blocks. The larger depots, such as Mirgissa and Buhen, built on flatter ground, clearly represent the ideal regular type.

No large fortresses of the New Kingdom survive complete and unaltered, except for Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham, still under excavation. The Ramesside forts at Deir el-Balah and Haruvit in the eastern Delta are both square with corner towers. Haruvit, the larger of the forts, might have had additional buttresses along the walls. Deir el-Balah had a reservoir. Evidence from the garrison towns of the Egyptian Empire in western Asia includes the small square migdol towers, identified at Tell Mor. Other sites have larger palatial buildings associated with the Egyptian governor: Tell el-Far‘ah south, Tell esh-Shari‘a, Aphek, Megiddo, and Beth Shean.

The fortresses of Roman date conform to the Roman style. This usually has a gate at the center of the walls, with colonnaded streets leading to the centrally placed headquarters (principia). Barracks occupy half of the area, with the commander’s residence and storage magazines occupying much of the remainder. There may be additional extramural buildings. Many of the late, larger forts, have semicircular bastions along the walls and circular corner towers.

FORTRESS, FORT. A military structure enclosed on all sides with fortifications, towers, bastions, fortified gates, ditches, glacis, etc.

FORTRESS, IN DEPICTIONS AND TEXTS. The slate palettes and ceremonial mace heads of the Predynastic Period depict enclosures of roughly square form with rounded corners and bastions at regular intervals and also circular enclosures with triangular salients. Such enclosures are shown being attacked and destroyed by the heraldic signs of the kings.

There is rather little evidence surviving from the Old Kingdom. Some Egyptologists attributed some of the earliest building levels in the Nubian fortresses to the Old Kingdom, but these are now generally assigned to the reign of Menthuhotep II or Amenemhat I. There are scenes of attacks on fortified towns in the tomb of Inti at Deshasheh and Kaemheset at Saqqara.

The troubles of the First Intermediate Period may have led to an increase in fortification: there is certainly more evidence from this period. Khety III, ruler of Herakleopolis, encouraged his son to build fortresses and towns. Tomb paintings of the late First Intermediate Period at Beni Hasan show fortified settlements being attacked. Here, the vertical walls have a battered base. Amenemhat I built some sort of defensive network on the eastern border called the Walls of the Ruler.

The earliest major examples of fortress architecture to have survived were the fortresses constructed by the Middle Kingdom pharaohs in Nubia, particularly the region of the Second Cataract. Farther south in Nubia, there was an enclosure wall around the elite center of the Kushite city of Kerma. There are no depictions of these fortresses, but they occur in administrative documents, such as the Semna Despatches.

The pharaohs of the New Kingdom restored the fortresses of Nubia, but none are depicted in battle scenes or tombs of viceroys. A small guard tower is depicted in the tomb of Mahu at Amarna, perhaps protecting the access to the area of the city in the north or south. The war scenes of the Ramesside period show many more fortified structures in Egypt and western Asia. A scene of a military expedition of Sety I shows the fortification protecting the eastern border around Tjaru, which includes small forts with a crocodile-filled canal. Ramesside texts also refer to this chain of forts along the Ways of Horus. A similar chain of small forts is thought to have existed along the western edge of the Delta and the Mediterranean coast as far as Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham. The reliefs depicting the wars of Ramesses III against the Libyans show the pursuit of the Libyan army past two Egyptian frontier fortresses. The scenes of battle with the Sea Peoples include a fortress called “Migdol of Ramesses-Ruler-of-Iunu.” In most instances, depictions of Egyptian fortresses are highly schematic, often being little more than a battlemented rectangle with a doorway. It is the accompanying name rather than a detailed representation that identifies the fortress.

There are no depictions of fortresses in the Libyan period. The campaigns in Egypt of the Kushite king Piye are documented by his Victory Stela, but the corresponding reliefs in the temple at Gebel Barkal are almost entirely destroyed. The text of the Victory Stela refers to the prolonged siege of the city of Khmunu (Hermopolis) in Middle Egypt, with sieges of other towns and forts, including Memphis, and to the attack on cities with scaling ladders. From the later 25th Dynasty, the Assyrian texts refer to the attack on Memphis and to the city walls of Sau, Djanet (Tanis), and another Delta city. A scene from Nineveh depicts an Egyptian fortified town being attacked by the Assyrian army, who had a considerable array of siege towers and engines.

Although forts were built in the eastern Delta in the 26th Dynasty and Persian period, and at Dorginarti in Nubia and Kharga Oasis in the Persian period, there are no more reliefs or paintings showing them.

FORTRESS NAMES. All Egyptian fortresses had names. These usually include that of the founding, or reigning, pharaoh or the enemy, sometimes combined. Of the 12th Dynasty forts in Nubia, Semna was Sekhem-Khakaure “Kha-kau-re (Senusret III) is powerful”; Kumma “Warding off the Bows”; and Semna South “Who repels the Setiu-Nubians.” In the 18th Dynasty, Thutmose III’s garrison fortress in Lebanon was called “Menkheperre is the Binder of the Barbarians.” The “Migdol of Menmaetre” (Sety I) is depicted in the pharaoh’s battle scenes at Karnak. A similar fortress of Merenptah was called “Migdol of Sety-Merenptah (who is) beloved like Seth.” A fortress of Ramesses III called “Migdol of Ramesses-Ruler-of-Iunu” is depicted in the scene of battle with the Sea Peoples. A fort shown in the scene of the Libyan Wars is called “Castle in the Sand.” In some of these cases, the fortresses might be the same, but renamed for the reigning pharaoh. The fort founded by Osorkon I near Herakleopolis was more simply Per-Sekhem-kheper-re “the house of Sekhem-kheper-re” (which was the throne name of Osorkon I), a designation more typical of temples.

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