National Geographic : 1941 Oct
An Ancient Egyptian River Fort on the Sudan Frontier FOR some distance below its second cataract the Nile, forc ing its way through outcrops of hard, crystalline rock, forms a series of narrow rapids, which, though navigable in antiquity by light, shallow-draft boats, exposed traffic to blockades and attacks by partly subjugated savages. To protect their own commerce with the south and to control the native traffic both by land and water, the Egyp tian kings of the XIIth Dynasty built a line of forts along these rapids on both sides of the river. The best known and best preserved of them are the pair flanking the Semna rapids, 50 miles south of Wadi Halfa. The west fort at Semna, shown reconstructed on page 462, though founded originally by King Amen-em-het I, was named "Powerful-is-King-Se'n-Wosret III", having been greatly enlarged and improved by the latter pharaoh (1887 1850 B. c.). Its great L-shaped plan was enclosed within massive walls of sun-dried brick, 15 to 25 feet thick and more than 30 feet high. The walls, strengthened by longitudinal and transverse timbers and equipped with towers, buttresses, and battle ments, were built on an embankment of granite rubble. In addition to the towered north and south gates, there were, on the river side, a small postern gate and a covered stone stairway leading downinto theNile. This well pro tected stairway enabled thesoldiers who were defending the garrison to obtain a constant supply of water even intimes of the closest siege. The fort was a canny piece ofmilitary architecture, per fectly adapted to the rockyprominence onwhich itwas built and so devised that all approaches toitwere difficult and hazardous. Early in itshistory itwithstood asiege of several months. The 150 to 300 Egyptian soldiers stationed inthe fort lived with their women andchildren inasmall town, built inside the walls and including, among sundry other build ings, several little brick temples. On page 462 a detail of typical Middle Kingdom soldiers, in charge of an officer, ishalting for inspection, anegro trader, who, with his familyand heavily laden papyrus canoe, is en route northward. Bydecree ofthepharaoh, theonly negroes who were permittedtopass the forts atSemna were those on "official business"orthose headed for theNubian trading post at Iken. Besides ivory, wild animal skins, and other cargo the negroes' canoe carries a dog-headed baboon (cynocephalus ape) of a well known breed, evidently apet.