In 1921, British archaeologist Sir John Marshall (1876–1958) excavated Harappa, another city in the Indus civilization 640 kilometers (400 miles) northeast of Mohenjodaro, along the Indus River, leading to the rediscovery of Mohenjodaro the following year, in 1922. With these finds came the realization that a fabulous civilization had once flourished in India, extended further back in time than had been previously supposed. Settlements had emerged around the Indus in c. 4000 BC, with a fully fledged civilization developing in c. 2700–2600 BC.
— Austen Atkinson, Lost Civilizations
The ancient Indic civilization, commonly though misleadingly referred to as the Indus civilization, is now widely thought to have reached maturity during the period from 2700 BC to 1900 BC, generally called the Harappan Age. In 1931, Sir John Marshall had proposed the period from 3100 BC to 2750 BC as the golden age of Harappa. Thirty years later this date was modified by Sir Mortimer Wheeler to 2500 BC to 1500 BC. Other scholars have fixed the beginnings to 2800 BC and the terminal date to 1800 BC. More and more the consensus moves towards 1900 BC as the date for the conclusion of the flowering of the great cities. However, their beginnings are still shrouded in darkness.
— Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization
The Indus Civilization is a mystery to us: we cannot even decipher their written language. It began to unfold at some time six thousand years before now, and almost two thousand years before Christ was born it began unraveling utterly, ultimately to be lost until nearly two thousand years after the carpenter from Nazareth was beheld. Theories as to what happened to destabilize their sophisticated culture are as common as dirt, ranging from J. G. Negi’s proposal that the course of the Indus itself shifted as rainfall dropped and in so doing left Harappa and Mohenjodaro uninhabitable (including the disappearance of the Saraswati River entire, which left many satellite cities incapable of supporting themselves, perhaps putting pressure on the two larger outposts) while other theories mention earthquakes and warfare as possible causes. But these are at best plausible guesses. What is known is that, at its height, the Indus Civilization had at least 1500 settlements in an area that was over 680,000 square kilometers, and that the urban centers were for their time metropolis, with Harappa being thought to have held 40,000 people at its peak, while Mohenjodaro may have been even larger with nearly 100,000 citizens. Both cities were designed around a grid plan, showing architectural skill and planning, including water projects that would have been at home in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Roman aqueducts.
We don’t know much about the Indus Civilization in great part due to a scarcity of written information: we don’t have enough of their language to help us look for similarities in order to decipher its meaning. We don’t know what the purpose of the complicated diversion of the Indus’s waters was. We don’t know if these cities were ruled by kings or priests or oligarchs, we don’t even know who or what they worshipped. They seem to have been primarily peaceful, with their weapons expertly crafted in copper, for they had no access to tin for bronze. These weapons have been thought to have been originally intended for hunting, although made both elegantly and well. There are signs of a brisk trade with regions as far away as Egypt, and seals from Mohenjodaro have been found in the ancient city of Ur, in the heart of Mesopotamia. It’s been speculated that they had a pantheon of gods, including a mother goddess figure, various sacred animals, perhaps even a hero cult of some kind based around a horned figure linked to fig trees and a cult of physical prowess similar in vague outlines to that of Bilgames/Gilgamesh, but this is at best wild conjecture based on statuary and relief carvings unaccompanied by the meanings of their inscriptions. (I should mention that the trefoil was very common on Harappan art to the point where it appeared as far away as Egypt on trade goods.) What we know is this: a great civilization rose and fell over the course of two thousand years in the Indus Valley, its people dispersed or dead, and the grand city of Mohenjodaro fallen into the hands of squatters that could not, did not maintain it. As for Harappa, there was no gradual decline, no squatters: the people of the city vanished, seemingly in the very middle of its great glory, as though they had been removed suddenly or fled.
What happened to them? Well, in their book In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, Georg Feuerstein, Subhash Kak and David Frawley argue that the culture of the lost Indus Civilization survives to this day in the Rig Veda and that the people of the twin cities are the direct ancestors and creators of Vedic India. Others argue that the Vedics were not from the Indus Civilization at all, but rather invaders from outside that brought with them the Indo-European language and culture that would sweep over and transform India as it would later push over Europe and the Mediterranean. I don’t pretend to know, myself, but let’s think about those trefoils on the statues and their similarities to clovers, the hero-cult with its great similarities to the man-bull of Crete, the minotaur, or Marduk the Bull of the Sun, or the primal bull “Lone-Created” by the Persian overgod Ahura Mazda (and we know that the Persian and Indian civilizations were linked by the fact that the Vedic Asuras and Devas became the Daevas and Ashura of Persia, their roles flipped so that the sinister Asura became Ahura Mazda’s allies in the Amesha Spentas while various Vedic gods, like Indra, became demonic allies of Ahriman), or perhaps even the sacred bull of Amon, the dead and ever-living bull of ancient Egypt… we know that the Harappan civilization traded up and down the Fertile Crescent and into Egypt before it died, and that unlike Mohenjodaro there was no long period of decline, but rather a suddenly empty city of possibly up to 40,000 people.
Although it’s probably not the case, let’s play along with Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley and go one step further: let’s assume that, for some reason, the people of Harappa dispersed. Some of them moved south, either forced into conflict or deliberately conquering the squatters who’d moved into Mohenjodaro and attempting to re-introduce their own culture. It’s possible that the strain of warfare with these Dravidian squatters was too much for them and much of their culture and civilization was lost, leaving a people now geared for war made up of elements of both cultures fused through violent conflict. This flies in the face of the established order of archaeology and history, of course, but are we going to let that stop us?
According to a popular, scholarly stereotype, the Vedic Aryans were cattle and sheep breeding seminomadic pastoralists. This may well be an accurate portrayal of a certain section of the Vedic society. However, the Vedic Aryans were more than wandering herders. They also were city dwellers and enthusiastic seafarers and merchants whose business took them the whole length of the great Sarasvati and Indus Rivers, as well as out into the oceans. As we have repeatedly emphasized, the Vedic peoples did not come as conquerors and destroyers from outside India, but lived in and even built the cities in the Land of the Seven Rivers. In several Rig Vedic hymns, God Agni (associated with fire) is invoked to protect the Aryans with a hundred cities. If they had no cities, the prayer would be nonsensical.
— Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization
Indeed, let us imagine the catastrophe in detail: the climate in the Indus Valley changes, aided along by earthquakes that shift the course of the rivers, drying up the Saraswati and moving the Indus itself. Following that catastrophe, the outlying cities of the Indus Civilization, now devoid of water, cause a steady stream of refugees to pour into Mohenjodaro and overwhelm the city’s infrastructure, causing the culture to steadily spiral downward. Meanwhile, while Mohenjodaro is declining, Harappa is no longer habitable, being inland miles from the river. For some reason, the people of Harappa decide to make war on their neighbors (we’ll come back to why) instead of taking in refugees or trying to rebuild somewhere else, and from this destructive warfare, from a people who lacked military weapons for most of their culture’s existence, the destruction of the Indus Civilization comes about. In and of itself, that would have been pretty dramatic, a life and death struggle that wipes out one of the most advanced cultures ever to exist in an orgy of fratricidal warfare caused by the ecological collapse of their homeland. But then we remember the wide-ranging trade of the Indus people, their trefoils and sacred beasts and hybrid figures, their trade goods in Ur of the Chaldees, and we begin to wonder about other consequences.
The incursion that finally exposed Egypt’s vulnerability was part of a vast migration touched off around the year 1800 (BCE) by warlike tribes moving from the steppes of Asia into the Middle East. The initial effect of this upheaval on Egypt was innocent enough: exiles from Palestine and more distant parts began to swell the population of the Delta. Some of the new arrivals were slaves who had been sold into bondage or had surrendered their freedom in exchange for economic protection. Then, around 1650, the Delta was engulfed by Asiatic warriors referred to as the Hyksos, or “rulers from foreign lands.” Clad in body armor and wielding scimitars and bows, they rode to war in a revolutionary vehicle unknown to Egypt — a two-wheeled chariot that confounded the efforts of mere foot soldiers.
— Time Life Books, The Age of God-Kings
The question that lies at the heart of the Second Intermediate Period is the nature of the Hyksos. Most histories depend upon written sources, and, with few exceptions (the Rhind Papyrus is one), these emanate from the Egyptian side. There is no Hyksos counterpart to the Kamose texts. What we have instead is evidence from the systematic excavation of their capital, Avaris (Tell el-Dab’a). We now know what their palaces, temples, houses and graves looked like, and we can observe how their culture evolved through time, but the Hyksos were not a single or simple phenomenon.
— Janine Bourriau, “The Second Intermediate Period” as collected in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, edited by Ian Shaw
What no one seems to want to talk about, exactly, is who the hell the Hyksos were. I’ve seen them defined as Semitic tribesmen by Josephus the 1^st^ century historian, and they bear a strong resemblance to the Scythians and Cimmerians of Herotodus, the Hittites of Hattusa and, to a lesser extent, the Magyars and Mongols of the steppes, although they were greatly separated by time (the Hyksos invasion took place between 1800 and 1650 BCE, whereas the Magyar horde menaced Europe in the 990s CE and the Mongol Empire in the 12^th^ century CE) and, to some degree, technology. The later hordes did not use the chariot, although it is interesting to note that recent discoveries in Scythian tombs in Russia and other, similar tombs in China point to a possible proto-Celtic origin to the Scythians… and the Celts did use chariots. If you’re thinking about that trefoil clover on the Harappan statuary right about now, I don’t blame you. It’s also interesting to consider the chariot and its introduction into the warfare of the Indus as recorded in the Rig Veda and how that fits into the notion that the Harappans were the Veda, rolling over their own people to the south and east… did they also push west?
Whoever the Hyksos were, the following is clear. They began their invasion of the Middle East around 1800 BCE, right around the time that the great Harappan civilization ceased its trade shipments with Mesopotamia, and rolled through to Egypt, which they crushed with pathetic ease. (Remember, all the trappings of war we think of as prototypically Egyptian — chariots, curved blades, recurve bows — these are all Hyksos war technology.) From roughly 1650 to 1500 BCE, the Hyksos ruled in Egypt as Egyptian Kings, sacred to Seth (who changed during the time of Hyksos from a simple storm god to the sinister god of foreigners and deserts he is known as today due to the Hyksos veneration of him… although they hardly ignored the other gods; they couldn’t rule Egypt without them, after all) and their seat of power was at Avaris in the Nile Delta. They introduced new levels of bronzesmithing and pottery craft to the area. They made alliances with the Karmah state in Lower Nubia (which had been under Egyptian rule until the coming of the Hyksos, and took the opportunity to take control of the territory), and while the Hyksos were quick to adopt the ways of the Egyptians and were accepted as such in the Lower Kingdom, the Upper Kingdom was much less tolerant of the “Asiatic dynasty.” (Note: because the Nile flows south to north, what the Egyptians call Lower Egypt is to the north, while Upper Egypt is to the south, nearer to the headwaters of the Nile.) Eventually, Seqenenre Taa, King of Thebes, rose up to re-conquer Lower Egypt. During the reigns of Seqenenre Taa, Kamose and Ahmose, the Hyksos were eventually defeated and Egypt re-united under the Theban dynasty, but the Hyksos did not go easily: Seqenenre Taa died with an axe in his head and his neck stabbed by a Hyksos dagger, and Kamose himself struggled to push the Hyksos out until his death in constant war with the Hyksos monarch Aauserra Apepi. It wasn’t until the reign of Ahmose, after the deaths of both Kamose and Apepi, that the Hyksos were finally beaten and the two kingdoms became one again. And even then, the Ramessid dynasty, which would eventually come to rule Egypt after the misbegotten reigns of Akhenaton and his miserable successor Tutankhamun (not to mention the boy king’s wife Ankhsenamun, her attempt to marry a Hittite prince, and the maneuverings of Ay and Horemheb which ultimately resulted in the ascension of the Ramessids), were from Avaris and worshipped the primary god of Avaris, Seth, the red haired storm god, god of deserts, god of foreigners, war-maker, he who rode in the solar barque with Ra and defeated the serpent Apepi night after night.
And yes, the great Hyksos king and the giant dragon-snake that attempted to eat the sun god at night wore the same name, despite the fact that Apepi was no doubt a very devout worshipper of Seth. Interesting, and let us consider one possible scenario: what if the people of Harappa divided upon the fall of their civilization? What if some of the lost Harappans, possibly accompanied by refugees from the various settlements along the vanished river Saraswati and maybe even folk from Mohenjodaro who wanted to avoid the way, decided to move west? Led by a member of the strange hero-cult, a priest perhaps, they make their way across the trade route to Mesopotamia, harassed along the way by their own people, the people who would become the Medes and Persians (which would explain why the gods and demons of the Vedic stories became reversed in later Persian mythology, if the Persians adopted the techniques of the Harappans but considered their gods to be enemies) and the city-states of the land between the two rivers. The decline of Sumerian civilization takes place at around this time, with new invaders borrowing the Sumerian culture-trappings and becoming known as the Amorites (those who would establish Bab-ilum) around the same time, in 1800 BCE. The foundation of what would become known as Babylon seems almost to happen in a wave of spreading changes that leads from Harappa to Egypt, which points to the idea that the “invasion of the chariot-riders” could be conceived of as an invasion from that direction, rather than the usual descent from some unknown region to the north in the direction of the Caucasus. The invaders from the east also founded what would become known to us as Assyria on the foundation of the Akkadian city of Ashur, meaning that both Sumeria and Akkad passed into the hands of chariot-driving barbarians who strangely knew how to seize, hold and even expand cities quite effectively. Hammurabi of Babylon was king by 1728 BCE, and Shamash-Adad I ruled Assyria from 1749 BCE to 1717 BCE, following which Hammurabi himself became overlord of Assyria as well. This isn’t a lot of time for sophisticated new nations to rise from conquest and culture-assimilation at all, and if we consider a similarity between the Hyksos invasion of Egypt and the chariot-riders nation-building exercises in Mesopotamia, we’re left to wonder how these supposed nomadic invaders could constantly invade the powerful nations of the time, overthrow their cultures and then assimilate them so rapidly.
Interestingly, the origin of the older, pre-invasion Sumerian language is unknown, although unlike the Harappan script we can at least read it. What we know about them is that they came into the region at roughly six thousand years before Christ, and that within two thousand years they had founded cities such as fabled Ur, at what was then the mouth of the Euphrates. (Yes, much like the Indus Civilization, they built near rivers — a common practice for all early cultures. You go where the water is. Even Tyrannosaurus Rex knew that one.) We know that Akkad was a Semitic people in terms of their language, which to me is telling: it implies that the reason the Amorites were a Semitic-speaking people could well be because they were adopting the more common language of the region to make rulership easier, and not because it was native to them. Many historians, linguists and archaeologists have already made the point that the difference between the Indo-European and Semitic language groups are exactly that: linguistic differences. It’s entirely possible that people of similar regional origins could take on and speak different languages: look at France and Germany, two nations whose origins in the period after the fall of Rome were inextricably linked to the empire of Charlemagne.
What does any of this mean? Well, let me be honest: I don’t know that it means anything. I’m certainly not going to let that stop me from coming up with a deranged theory or two… or three… or five… but I am aware that much of this is at best remarkably thin speculation. We have the total collapse of the Indus Civilization, a trade partner with the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations whose influence and ships made an impact as far as the Nile, followed by a wave of invaders on chariots who in turn destabilized much of India, swept through Mesopotamia itself and very rapidly adopted the language and the culture of the city-states of the region, and then invaded Egypt and held onto power there for centuries, so thoroughly assimilating into the culture of Avaris that they forever changed the religious conception of a major god of the Egyptians and added the name of one of their great monarchs to that of the serpent that sought to devour the sun-god Ra. They may have been a Semitic-speaking people, but their resemblance to the later-coming Hittites and Mitanni (who spoke Indo-European, the Mitanni actually considered speaking a dialect close to that of the Rig Veda itself) makes us wonder if they merely adopted that language group from their Akkadian subjects much as the Frankish conquerors of Gaul adopted the peculiar Latinate forms of that region upon a century or two of conquering it. It seems likely that this group had fractured upon its arrival in the Middle East (or perhaps even earlier, while crossing overland to reach it) and this is the reason for the different waves of conquest; that the proto-Vedic Harappa simply split into different, competing hero-cults led by strong leaders who each overtook a different power base and in time came into conflict either with each other or with peoples strong enough to blunt their forward motion.
Is it possible that the initial Harappan wave in this theory smashed into Sumeria and Akkad for reasons other than convenience?
Meanwhile, in Akkad, north of Sumeria, there was a ruler called Sargon of Agade (the leading city of Akkad). Legends grew about him in later generations, including one in which, as a baby, he was supposed to have been found in a small boat floating on the river. (The legend, famous in the Middle East, was taken over by the Biblical writers and applied to Moses.) Sargon gained control of Kish and, about 2340 BC, he easily defeated Lugalzaggisi and united all of Sumer and Akkad under his rule. He then went on to conquer Elam and the mountainous lands to the east, as well as the upper reaches of the Tigris-Euphrates, and Canaan to the west. His dominions spread from the Mediterranean Sea to the Caspian Sea in the north and to the Persian Gulf in the south. It included all the civilized regions of western Asia.
— Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Chronology of the World
This places a new spin on the idea of the Indus Civilization and its collapse, because just as Sargon I was reaching the heights of his power the traders of Harappa and Mohenjodaro were doing a brisk business with Ur and Memphis: it would have been difficult for him to not have known about them. Inasmuch as Sargon’s empire lasted until a few decades after the death of his grandson Naramsim, and sought to expand (empires are inherently expansionist) it is likely it came into conflict with the Indics. Meanwhile, Sargon spread his native Semitic dialect throughout the region, giving it a status as a “trade tongue” and explaining why it would benefit any conqueror of the region to come after him to practice Semitic dialogue as the language of a new empire: everyone already spoke it. It’s possible to imagine that the growth of Sargon’s empire could well have caused tension for its neighbors to the east, a tension that may even have come out in military conflicts (causing the sudden rise in Harappa and Mohenjodaro of beautifully-crafted weapons), which helped create a culture of panicked militarism among some of the elite of the Indus Civilization. This would be interesting enough if Sargon’s dynasty ended with the fall of his empire and his region to a wave of counter-invasion about 500 years after his death… but it most certainly did not.
Sargon II (Sharru-Kin the Assyrian) also attempted to reconstruct an earler dynasty (that of Sargon of Agade, founder of the Akkadian kingdom of 2300 BCE) by personifying himself as Sargon returned, and constructing a vast new city called Dur-Sharrukin. Sargon constructed the city in a ten-year span, with lavish threats of death for those who worked on it if they failed to construct it in time… and barely lived a year past finishing it. Sargon II took the throne of Assyria in 722 BCE or thereabouts. Very clearly, despite his claims, he was not of the line of the first, by then legendary Sargon, yet by his accomplishments it’s not hard to understand why many came to see him as a second Sargon the Empire-Builder: taking up after the previous dynasty of Tiglath-Pileser III and Shalmaneser V, the latter of which he deposed, Sargon moved on to conquer Israel and Urartu, overwhelmed Marduk-apal-iddina in Babylon (a Chaldean) after years of total war, overwhelmed the Elamites in turn, conquered the Haldians, and fathered a dynasty that was continued by his son Sennacherib (the infamous Biblical figure). It’s the construction of Dun-Sharrukin that’s the most interesting to me, however. Much of the military and national power of the new Assyria (a nation that, like the Setite kings of Egypt, would often declare victory when it had at best achieved a tie, as in the case of declaring Rusash I of the Haldians dead when the man was in fact still alive) was sunk into Dun-Sharrukin and yet, within a year of Sargon II’s death, the city was quite deserted… much as the Egyptian king Amenhotep IV, who named himself Akhenaton, built himself a grand new city that would soon be deserted after his death. Akhenaton moved his capital from Thebes to Akhenaton, known today as Amarna and just as Sennacherib abandoned Sargon II’s manufactured city, so too did Tutankhamen after his father’s death. Why do I even mention this?
Because it’s interesting to consider that the Semitic-speaking king Sargon I would not only have a successor who would name himself Sargon and attempt to emulate his works, but he would also have a successor named Moses, who would share the same origin with him.
Sargon, the mighty king, king of Agade, am I.
My mother was a changeling, my father I knew not.
The brothers of my father loved the hills.
My city is Azupiranu, which is situated on the Euphrates.
My changeling mother conceived me, in secret she bore me.
She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid.
She cast me into the river which rose not up over me.
— From the Legend of Sargon, The Ancient Near East, edited by James B. Pritchard
And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein; and she laid it in the flags by the river’s brink. And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him.
— Exodus 2:1–4
We know that the kings of Egypt spread rumors that Apepi, the Hyksos king, had broken with Seth his god (they went so far as to transform Apepi into the great serpent who sought to devour Ra in his barque, making Apepi one of the many titles of the snake we know today as Apophis) and they went even further, actually adopting Seth, this god of foreigners and deserts, as their own and giving him a role of respect alongside their sun god himself. Seth would stay “redeemed,” as it were, for centuries and was even the patron god of the Ramessid kings themselves at the time that the war with the Assyrians and Hattusans was heating up… Seti was, after all, named for Seth, and Seth was victory’s father. We also know that in the fore of the Hyksos entry into Egypt, the semitic Palestinians were driven into the land, those self-same Palestinians who would become known to the Egyptians as Habiru.
The arm of the mighty king conquers the land of Naharaim and the land of Cush, but now the Habiru capture the cities of the king. There is not a single governor to the king, my lord - all have perished! Behold, Turbazu has been slain in the very gate of Sile, yet the king holds the peace. Behold Zimreda, the townsmen of Lachish have smitten him, slaves who had become Habiru.
— The Amarna Letters, The Ancient Near East, Volume I, edited by James B. Pritchard
These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Is’sachar, Zeb’ulun, and Benjamin, Dan and Naph’tali, Gad and Asher. All the offspring of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt. Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and all that generation. But the descendants of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
— Exodus, 1:1–8
On the surface, it seems like a complete inversion of the Book of Exodus. But is it, really? Even back in the 1^st^ century CE, while expounding on the writings of Manetho, Josephus (himself a Jew by birth) noticed the connection between the words Hyksos and Habiru in ancient Egyptian. One means Foreign Rulers and the other simply foreigners. In the territories of the Akkadians, a similar title was used for a group of armed raiders who beset the country, the Habbatu. Habbatu, Habiru, Hattusa, Hyksos… are they all the same?
Imagine, therefore, that the Semitic monarch Sargon I, with his legend of displacement, his claim of being descended from a “changeling” (whatever that means) and his unknown father, whose people were “lovers of the hills,” might have in fact been born again to a Semitic people who crashed down on the Egyptians only to be driven forth again hundreds of years later, driven into slavery because their greatest leader turned away from his god… or, perhaps, his god turned away from him. Much has been made by many of the similarities between the Pharaoh Akhenaton (formerly Amenhotep IV) and the monotheism of the solar disk Aten and the faith of the Hebrews, led forward from their confinement by Moses and his brother Aaron. So let us consider this scenario. The Hyksos arrive in Egypt from the land between the two rivers, having completed their march through establishing the new Semitic-speaking cultures of Babylon and Assyria as they went. They conquer upper Egypt and establish their desert-dwelling god (perhaps God Agni, who protected their cities in the Indus?) as equivalent with Seth… so equivalent, in fact, that soon, even the Egyptians view Seth as victorious, powerful, and turn to him. Then a masterstroke among the Egyptians, who treated the gods as formulas to be mastered and evoked as much as divine beings to be worshipped: they created a new name for the devourer serpent, calling it Apepi, and at the same time bargained with the Seth who was now the powerful desert wind, the storm god who had become Seth, the fire from the desert, promising him more followers, a seat of respect second only to Ra, defender of the solar barque. They made a deal, and so Seth abandoned his victorious people, allowing them to be either driven from Egypt into climes north or crushed, Avaris recaptured and made part of the reunited Upper and Lower Kingdoms of Egypt, and slaves made of the Habiru remnants.
However, as time passed, Seth was relegated to second fiddle status. Even as the rule of Egypt passed first into the heirs of Khamose and eventually into the Amenhotep dynasty, Seth became less and less important, until Amenhotep IV divested Egypt of all its gods entirely and directed all prayer towards the disc of the sun alone! This was an intolerable turn of affairs for the entity known to the Egyptians as Seth, who had already staged a divine coup merely to get where he was, and now saw himself frozen out of the worship and respect he demanded (and perhaps even needed for plans yet unspoken of) — and if one baby floating down the Euphrates could be made to render all of Mesopotamia subject to those chosen by God Agni, pouring down from the mountains (“the brothers of my father loved the hills”), then perhaps another baby floating down another river could serve to create a new base of power. Perhaps Sargon could live again and lead his people forth from what had become a stagnant, dead land not worth the prayers to be reaped from it… surely any dreams that the building of Amarna could have served a better purpose than Avaris were lost to idle prayers aimed at the disc of the sun, after all.
The Hyksos in defeat could well have been driven north, where they would have met up with another outrider of their push west, the Mitanni, as well as the Hattusans who ruled in Asia Minor. It’s tempting to notice that the Hattusan kingdom under Labarnas was founded right around the time the Hyksos entered Egypt (roughly 1650 BCE or so), but that the full power of the Hattusa wouldn’t be felt until roughly three hundred years later, as Suppiluliumas I would grow strong enough to raid Babylon. (Over the course of history in Asia Minor and the Middle East, it was often almost an initiation rite for a growing power to raid Babylon.) However, the Hattusans, the Egyptians, the Assyrians and other powers of the region would all be balked by events out in the Mediterranean, as the trading nation of the Minoans would be battered by volcanic eruptions, besieged by the descendents of chariot-riding Indo-Europeans called the Mycenaeans, and ultimately destroyed, sending waves of “sea-peoples” hurtling into the lands of Asia Minor, the coastal region of the Middle East, and Egypt proper.
Chaos again. It has been with us throughout this tale: the orderly grids of Harappa and Mohenjodaro destroyed, and the people lost or sent sweeping to attack their own, create degenerated culture in the ruins of Mohenjodaro which would be lost to time or wash over their neighbors to the west, take up their language, their culture as well, make it new, rush into Egypt like a wave and build and be swept away again, in new forms (Hyksos, Habiru, Hattusa) come crashing into Egypt again, held off at the hill of Har-Meggidon until the next wave of Indo-European charioteers comes sweeping in from, of all places, the sea… Sargon is born of the river and builds an empire, Moses is born of the river and leads his people north to clash with Canaan, Sargon is born again and fights another battle for Babylon, Babylon the always-contested, the great city, the hive of order. Always to be swept away in chaos. Ur rose up, the great ziggurat reaching forth into the sky where the God of Abraham and Isaac first made a covenant with those who would eventually reach into Egypt… is Ur where Seth met the Hyksos? Order attempts to establish itself and Chaos drives it back, forever contesting. Why did the second Sargon feel the need to build Dun-Sharrukin? Why did Akhenaton construct what would become Amarna?
Verily at the first Chaos came to be, but next wide-bosomed Earth, the ever-sure foundations of all the deathless ones who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus, and dim Tartarus in the depth of the wide-pathed Earth.
— Hesiod, Theogony
When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained.
— Enuma Elish, The First Tablet
Unable to participate, unsure which side was winning, Elric and Moonglum watched as the intensity of the battle increased and, with it, the slow dissolution of the gods’ earthly manifestation. The fight was no longer merely on the earth but seemed to be raging throughout all the planes of the cosmos and, as if in unison with this transformation, the earth appeared to be losing its form, until Elric and Moonglum drifted in the mingled swirl of air, fire, earth and water. The earth dissolved — yet still the Lords of the Higher Worlds battled over it. The stuff of the earth alone remained, but unformed. Its components were still in existence, but their new shape was undecided. The fight continued. The victors would have the privilege of re-forming the earth.
— Michael Moorcock, Stormbringer
At the end of the world depicted in Moorcock’s book, the Lords of Order and Lords of Chaos do battle to determine the fate of the new world as the Young Kingdoms, the nations of the world as it existed before their battle, were utterly destroyed, wiped out, returned back into the fundamental material of existence to be reshaped by the will of destiny and the sounding of the Horn of Fate. Yet even as Elric slew his own friend Moonglum to blow the Horn and help usher a new world, his own sword Stormbringer, that soul-eating black blade, proved the stronger and devoured his own soul as well, and leapt forth as the first force of chaos in a new world. As it survived, so too did timeless, placeless Tanelorn, for Tanelorn is the Eternal City, that place that does not appear on any maps nor is known by many, unloved by Chaos and by Law as well, neither of which can enter it. Tanelorn is a secret, a mystery that uncoils in the human breast, existing in every plane in the cosmos in one way or another. Therefore, it both existed before the Horn of Fate was blown, and must thereby exist again, for it cannot be destroyed.
Let us imagine, therefore, that the city of Balance exists in this world, the one created by the blowing of the Horn of Fate and the death of an albino who ushered in the end of all he knew, as an inspiration. Perhaps it rises and falls again and again, the unkillable city, born in the minds of men who then seek to make it real. Did Akhenaton reject the hungry gods to try and create his own Tanelorn in the desert? Was Harappa the reflection of the Eternal City, created by a long-forgotten hero, a manifestation of the Eternal Champion even as the dead and damned albino was? It becomes possible to look at that forgotten hero-god of Harappa, at Bilgames of Uruk, at Sargon the first, at his kinsman and recursion, Moses, who shared his origin, as well as Apepi who turned against Seth, Seth the desert god, god of foreigners, god who brings storms… and others, like the second Sargon — are these all faces of one being? Are these the guises of the same entity who would be known as Elric, as Ulrich von Bek, as Corum, as Hawkmoon…? Did Sargon and Moses and Sargon II feel the same connection to the balance of Law versus Chaos? Did they each seek to find Tanelorn or to build it if they could not? Was Dun-Sharrukin the effort of a maddened king, tormented by an entity that would pretend to be a god? It’s not hard to imagine Stormbringer, the first force of Chaos in this new world, playing at various godheads, sending storms and disasters and perhaps even swarms of invaders at Harappa in a recreation of the beggar army of Nadsokor… were those who were displaced by the drying up of the Saraswati the pawns of an old tactic borrowed from the time before the world existed? When the charioteers rebuilt the Sumerian cities, replaced their language with borrowed ones, and built Harappa in the mountains of Asia Minor as Hattusa with its cyclopean walls and winged bulls, built fabled Babylon with its Sirrush, where the book of Bel and the Dragon took place (a recreation of long-lost Imrryr from the fragmentary memories of a dead albino, eaten by a force of pure chaos who played games with an Eternal Champion, perhaps) it seems possible they were caught up in a game they had no idea how to play, between the rebirth of a long-dead world and the creation of a new one. How long back before Christ could Von Bek’s Grail Knights have existed? Did Akhenaton remember Melniboné? Did Apepi turn his people’s back on Seth when he realized that once again, Chaos had grown too strong? Maybe he even remembered dying a most horrible death at the hands of his “god.”
Elric of Melniboné, last of the Bright Emperors, cried out, and then his body collapsed, a sprawled husk beside its comrade, and he lay beneath the mighty balance that still hung in the sky. Then Stormbringer’s shape began to change, writhing and curling above the body of the albino, finally to stand astraddle it. The entity that was Stormbringer, last manifestation of Chaos which would remain with this new world as it grew, looked down on the corpse of Elric of Melniboné and smiled. “Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou.” And then it leapt from the Earth and went spearing upwards, its wild voice laughing mockery at the Cosmic Balance, filling the universe with its unholy joy.
— Michael Moorcock, Stormbringer
The constant battle between Law and Chaos is inherent in the human heart, and the creation of any city is an act of artifice unifying, joining, balancing those two essentials. Tanelorn, the Eternal City, is a manifestation of balance, a state of mind, a trick of the heart making a city possible, viable, livable by humans. These ancient cities play Tanelorn’s game and are grown from Tanelorn’s seed, and always they must balance against the Chaos that seeks to overwhelm them. It becomes possible to imagine the constantly resurrected Eternal Champion, sometimes a pawn of the Bringer of Storms, sometimes its foe, always fighting to maintain the balance, leading his people from ruined Harappa west, looking for Tanelorn. Dying, being reborn as Sargon, as Apepi, as Akhenaten, as Moses, as Sharru-Kin and seeking to find, and if not to find, then to build Tanelorn, to bring about that endless victory of the balance over the mad, impish, necessary force of Chaos that helped create the world and seeks always to destroy that which man creates, that bears no love in its heart for Tanelorn. Was the spirit that led Moses north from Egypt and into the desert, away from cities, to wander for forty years and die without ever seeing one again really the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac? Or was it a sinister, sly, foreigner god, a god of scorpions and sand and storms? Why did it lead Joshua to destroy the walls of Jericho? All cities are the Eternal City, and the Eternal City is not beloved by Law or Chaos, for it seeks to use them both. A battle that will rage forever.
Looking out on the city I live in now, I see mankind forever looking for Tanelorn.
Copyright © 2005 by Matthew Rossi.