"Of dead kingdoms I recall the soul, sitting amid their ruins." ~Nathaniel Parker Willis
In the year 1862, Emperor Tewodros of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) found himself in dire straits. Much of his own nation had risen up against him, armed revolt spreading across the land. Only the heart of imperial power, from Lake Tana to his fortress of Magdala remained loyal. He found himself in a game of whack-a-mole, constantly engaged in armed conflict with an array of rebel forces. Abyssinia was also under threat from Muslim encroachment- Ottoman Turks and Egyptians threatened Abyssinia from Sudan and the Red Sea, while the Muslim Oromo tribe expanded throughout the highlands. Desperate, and at the end of his ropes, Tewodros begged the imperial powers of Europe for help. "Now came the definitive attempt, at the turning point of the emperor's career. Success might stabilize the internal situation; defeat would pull out the last prop. He proposed to send embassies with the ultimate objective of obtaining military alliances and agreements for technical progress." (Crumney, 1972. Priests and Politicians: Protestant and Catholic Missions in Orthodox Ethiopia)
Letters reached most of the major powers of Europe, including Russia, Prussia, Austria, France, and the British Empire. The response was a deafening silence. Only France gave any reply, and they only to make demands on behalf of a catholic mission at the edge of Tewodros's realm.
The Emperor's letter to Queen Victoria appealed to Christian solidarity in the face of Muslim expansion in the region, but this appeal had no effect. The British had a myriad interests across the region, and to them the Ottomans represented a valuable hedge against Russian expansion in Asia. The Suez Canal also motivated cooperation with Egypt and Sudan, as it represented the life-line connecting Britain to India, the jewel in her imperial crown.
In the face of rejection and the increasing hopelessness of his situation, Tewodros lashed out.
He turned his attention first to Henry Stern, a British missionary in Abyssinia. Stern had written about Tewodros before: "The eventful and romantic history of the man, who, from a poor boy, in a reed-built convent became... the conquerer of many provinces, and the Sovereign of a great and extensive realm." (Stern, 1862. Wandering Among the Falashas in Abyssinia) The Emperor had been cultivating a story that he was descended from King Solomon, and so perhaps this transgression is what first caught his ire. Tewodros captured Stern, along with his manservant Mr. Rosenthal. They faced physical abuse and imprisonment in cruel conditions, and many of Stern's household servants were beaten to death.
Initially, protests over Stern's imprisonment were led by the British consul Charles Cameron, until he and his staff were imprisoned too. Soon afterwards, Tewodros had imprisoned most of the Europeans in his royal camp.
The British turned to a man named Hormuzd Rassam, an Assyrian Christian from Mesopotomia. A gifted archaeologist, linguist, and polymath, it was hoped he would find a way to negotiate for the release of the emperor's prisoners. Initially, Rassam seemed to make some progress. The emperor was friendly towards him, establishing him in good quarters on the south shore of Lake Tana.
However, another man arrived at Ottoman controlled Massawa around this time, named C.T. Beke. He came bearing letters from the hostages' families to Tewodros, begging for their release, and these were forwarded to Tewodros. Beke's actions seemed to tip the unstable emperor towards a more hostile path. Rassam stated in his memoirs that "I date the change in the King's conduct towards me, and the misfortunes which eventually befell the members of the Mission and the old captives, from this day." (Rassam, 1869. Narrative of the British Mission to Theodore, King of Abyssinia)
Soon after his change in heart, Tewodros made Rassam a prisoner, and his treatment of all the hostages became far harsher. The British began to consider an alternative plan- a rescue mission for all the prisoners locked in the fortress of Magdala. Authorizing such a venture was no small political feat. At this time, Prime Minister Gladstone and the Liberals were the ruling party in Britain and they were reluctant to embark on any costly imperial adventures. Yet the fact that British women and children were numbered amongst the hostages made for captiivating and hyperbolic newspaper headlines, and this incident was high in the public imagination. During a timely election, the Conservative party milked the situation for all they could, and in doing so committed themselves to sending some kind of military expedition. When they won, Lord Derby and Benjamin Disraeli found that a military campaign had become unavoidable.
The task was assigned to the Bombay Army, one of three British Indian armies. Veterans of the Persian War of 1856-57, and numerous other colonial campaigns, they would be led by an officer from the Corps of Royal Engineers, one Sir Robert Napier. This was an unusual choice in leadership, but also a sensible one, given the immense logistical challenge of operating in the Abyssinian highlands. They numbered more than 13,000 British and Indian soldiers, more than double that in camp followers, along with 40,000 animals, including 44 Indian elephants. Given the vast distance between any potential landing sites and the Ethiopian interior (Tewodros's seat of power), the British planners knew they would have to forage for food and supplies while on march. They reasoned that to avoid sparking additional resistance everything must be purchased, to maintain amicable relationships with local Ethiopians.
The force set sail from from Bombay in nearly 300 steam and sailing ships. An advance guard of engineers first landed in Zula on the coast of the Red Sea, and began to construct a port in October 1867. Even as they began to stretch miles of railway into the Abyssinian interior, an advance guard under Sir William Merewether was advancing up the Kumayli River to Senafe. Upon reaching the town, he sent two letters: The first was sent to Tewodros, demanding the release of his hostages. Rassam intercepted the message and destroyed it, afraid it would enrage the emperor and risk harm to the hostages. The other letter was addressed to the people of Ethiopia, essentially a piece of PR assuring them of their peaceful intentions towards any who did not support the emperor.
"It is known to you that Theodorus, King of Abysinnia, detains in captivity the British Council Cameron, the British Envoy Rassam and many others, in violation of the laws of all civilized nations. all friendly persuasion having failed to obtain their release, my sovereign has commanded me to lead an army to liberate them. All who befriend the prisoners or assist in their liberation shall be well rewarded, but those who may injure them shall be severely punished. When the time shall arrive for the march of a British Army through your country, bear in mind, People of Abyssinia, that the Queen of England has no unfriendly feelings towards you, and no design against your country or your liberty. Your religious establishments, your persons and your property shall be carefully protected. All supplies required for my soldiers shall be paid for. No peaceable inhabitants shall be molested. The sole object for which the British force has been sent to Abyssinia is the liberation of Her Majesty's subjects. There is no intention to occupy permanently any portion of the Abyssinian territory, or to interfere with the government of the country."
Within months, the British had trekked 600 kilometers into the Abyssinian interior, right to the very foot of the emperor's fortress of Magdala. It was an arduous journey, with each soldier carrying more than 50lbs of equipment, and traveling through rough terrain. Trails were at times non-existent and ropes and pulleys had to be employed to move stores and equipment up steep terrain. All along the way they were hemorrhaging men, who were posted at intervals to guard their tenuous supply lines. Despite these challenges they faced little resistance. The emperor's strength was already crumbling, with local lords quick to defect to their side. By this point, desertion had reduced the emperor's army to little more than 10,000 men, and those who remained were far less well trained or equipped than their British counterparts. Tewodros had marched to meet the British at Magdala, but barely arrived in time to put up a defense of the fortress. As historian Sven Rubenson notes, it was Tewodros, not the British, who found himself travelling through hostile territory. (Rubenson, 1966. King of Kings, Tewodros of Ethiopia)
On April 9th, the British reached the Bashilo, and "on the following morning, Good Friday, they crossed the stream barefooted, stooping to fill their water-bottles on the way." (Moorehead, 1972. The Blue Nile) That afternoon, the Battle of Magdala began. In the open valley between the British and the fortress, several thousand Abyssinian soldiers were camped, with as many as 30 artillery pieces. Foolishly, Tewodros ordered an immediate attack, and the soldiers, many of whom were only armed with spears, charged the British as they deployed. The British responded with a withering barrage of rifle and artillery fire. One captain remarked that "many a charred mass and mangled heap showed how terrible was the havoc, how awful the death" (Matthies, 2012. The Siege of Magdala: The British Empire Against the Emperor of Ethiopia). After a short and chaotic battle, the mangled remnants of the Abyssian advance guard retreated into Magdala fortress. From this point onwards, the fortress was under seige.
Negotiations began, and two hostages were released to offer Napier the emperor's terms. Napier continued to insist on the release of all the hostages- and here we see an example of the differential treatment afforded to the European hostages, as opposed to their native counterparts (some of whom had collaborated with various European powers). The European hostages were released, while the native hostages had their hands and feet amputated, before being thrown from the precipices surrounding the plateau on which Magdala sat. Following this, the assault of Magdala began.
Under covering fire from the British riflemen, members of the Royal Engineers blew up the first gate, driving the defenders in retreat beyond the second gate. They met little resistance from here on out, and as they passed the second gate, they found the emperor dead. He had taken his own life, with a pistol that Queen Victoria had sent as a diplomatic gift many years ago. A British eyewitness described the sight:
"Climbing a narrow rock stairway, we advanced quickly toward a second gate, through which we passed without meeting resistance. About a hundred paces beyond it lay the half-naked body of the emperor himself, who had taken his own life with a pistol shot. A strange smile was on the remarkably young and attractive-looking face, and I was struck particularly by the finely drawn, boldly aquiline nose."
The emperor was cremated in a local church, and as his body burned, the British began to loot the fortress, carrying away a treasure trove of golden crosses, rare antiquities, and other prizes, some of which remain in the British Museum to this very day.
The British destroyed Magdala, to prevent the local Oromo tribe- who were muslims- from seizing it. After the destruction of the fortress, they began the long march back to Zula. The expedition left many problems unanswered, one being that many of the hostages were unhappy about the prospect of returning to Europe. They had lived in Abyssinia for many years, and in some cases felt more closely connected to Abyssian culture than European culture. One observer stated that:
"Most of them, instead of thanking Providence for their final rescue, were not all happt with the new turn of events. They were indignant, upset, at having to leave Abyssinia. "What" they said, "are we suppoed to do in Europe now, what are we supposed to do with our wives and children back in our homeland- which has become alien to us? How are we supposed to live now among people who have becoe alien to us and whom we no longer like? What are we supposed to live on?"
Many of them would return to their adopted country later on. The lasting result of the campaign had less to do with the rescue of the hostages and more to do with the death of Tewodros, the destruction of Magdala, the looting of many Ethiopian treasures, and the birth of a new British military battle honor- Abyssinia. In the power vacuum left by this campaign, Ethiopia fell further into bloody civil war, which lasted until 1872, when Dajamach Kassai of Tigray crowned himself Emperor, taking the name Yohannes IV.
Historian Harold Marcus described the campaign as "one of the most expensive affairs of honor in history." (Marcus, 1995. The Life and Times of Menelik II: Ethiopia, 1844-1913)
We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night telling itself stories."
Humans are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee."
The very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship”
The most powerful force ever known on this planet is human cooperation — a force for construction and destruction.”
The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor."
Sports is to war as pornography is to sex."
Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary."
Civilization is the interval between Ice Ages."
Most of us spend too much time on the last twenty-four hours and too little on the last six thousand years."
Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain."
We are part mineral beings too – our teeth are reefs, our bones are stones – and there is a geology of the body as well as of the land."
However many nations live in the world today, however many countless people, they all had but one dawn." ~Anonymous, Popul Vuh
Every step you take has already been taken. Every story has already been told. The land is not newly discovered, so old with legends you might mistake them for rocks." ~Craig Childs
The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause." ~Henri Bergson
Archaeologists may not always see the trees, but we capture the forest with great clarity" ~Robert Kelly
The past is never dead; it's not even past." ~William Faulkner
No civilization has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.” ~Douglas Preston
If you go into a museum and look at antiquities collected there, you can be sure that the vast bulk of them were found not in buildings but in graves." ~Leonard Woolley
Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless earth.” ~Robert Macfarlane
We always stand on the shoulders of our ancestors, whether or not we look down to acknowledge them." ~David Anthony
That which always was, and is, and will be everliving fire, the same for all, the cosmos, made neither by god nor man, replenishes in measure as it burns away." ~Heraclitus
Shamanism is not simply a component of society: on the contrary, shamanism, together with its tiered cosmos, can be said to be the overall framework of society." ~David Lewis-Williams
Opened are the double doors of the horizon. Unlocked are its bolts." ~Utterance 220 of the Pyramid of Unas
If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." ~Rudyard Kipling
The mountains are fountains of men as well as of rivers, of glaciers, of fertile soil. The great poets, philosophers, prophets, able men whose thoughts and deeds have moved the world, have come down from the mountains." ~John Muir
The ecological thinker is haunted by the consequences of time." ~Garrett Hardin
Through the experience of time, Dasein becomes a ‘being towards death’: without death existence would be care-less, would lack the power that draws us to one another and to the world." ~Iain McGillchrist
The dead outnumber the living fourteen to one, and we ignore the accumulated experience of such a huge majority of mankind at our peril." ~Niall Ferguson
Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are." ~Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
We live in a zoologically impoverished world, from which all the hugest and fiercest, and strangest forms have recently disappeared." ~Alfred Russel Wallace
Humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences." ~Sebastian Junger
Except in geographical scale, tribal warfare could be and often was total war in every modern sense. Like states and empires, smaller societies can make a desolation and call it peace." ~Lawrence Keeley
The first people were aware of the signs and signals of the natural world. Their artifacts were projectiles, blades, and ivory sewing needles, either used on animal products, or made from them, or used to procure them. The world around them was a cycle of animals of all sizes, from voles and falcons to some of the largest mammals seen in human evolution." ~Craig Childs
The number of herbivores sets a cap on the number of carnivores that can live in a region. Of course, adding an additional predator of fairly large body size, like a modern human, would produce repercussions that would ripple though all the other predators in the area and their prey." ~Pat Shipman
When viewed globally, near-time extinctions took place episodically, in a pattern not correlated with climatic change or any known factor other than the spread of our species." ~Paul S. Martin
However splendid our languages and cultures, however rich and subtle our minds, however vast our creative powers, the mental process is the product of a brain shaped by the hammer of natural selection upon the anvil of nature."
Behavior is imitated, then abstracted into play, formalized into drama and story, crystallized into myth and codified into religion- and only then criticized in philosophy, and provided, post-hoc, with rational underpinnings."
I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow."
We are fire creatures from an ice age." ~Stephen Pyne
Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified." ~Edward Abbey
Men and women, empires and cities, thrones, principalities, and powers, mountains, rivers, and unfathomed seas, worlds, spaces, and universes, all have their day, and all must go." ~H. Rider Haggard
One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be- though possibly a colored canvas and a sheet of notes will remain- because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone." ~ Oswald Spengler
All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance."
In the long paleontological perspective, we humans must be considered invasive in any locale except Africa." ~Pat Shipman
Of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Civilization, man feels once more happy." ~Richard Francis Burton
Sedentary culture is the goal of civilization. It means the end of its own lifespan and brings about its corruption." ~Ibn Khaldun
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire." ~Gustav Mahler
As for man, his days are numbered. Whatever he might do, it is but wind." ~The Epic of Gilgamesh
There is a cave in the mind."
Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb, we come." ~Joseph Campbell
I feel again a spark of that ancient flame." ~ Virgil
Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun. I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it therefore not to be an experimental science in search of law, but an interpretive one in search of meaning." ~Clifford Geertz
In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order." ~Carl Jung
Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids." ~Arab proverb
Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land." ~Hiram Bingham
You don't have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things- to compete. You can just be an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals." ~Edmund Hillary
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going into the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity." ~John Muir
To speak of truth sounds too grand, too filled with the promise of certainty, and we are rightly suspicious of it. But truth will not go away that easily. The statement that ‘there is no such thing as truth’ is itself a truth statement, and implies that it is truer than its opposite, the statement that ‘truth exists’." ~Lain McGillchrist
The Sphinx will always have to be looked after."
Yes, the pyramids have been built, but if you give me 300,000 disciplined men and 30 years I could build a bigger one."
Civilizations exist by geological consent, subject to change without notice."
When at last we anchored in the harbor, off the white town hung between the blazing sky and its reflection in the mirage which swept and rolled over the wide lagoon, then the heat of Arabia came out like a drawn sword and struck us speechless"
The best prophet of the future is the past."
An archaeologist is the best husband a woman can get. The older she gets the more interested he is in her."
Archaeology is the peeping Tom of the sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been."
What would be ugly in a garden constitutes beauty in a mountain."
I have never been able to grasp the meaning of time. I don't believe it exists. I've felt this again and again, when alone and out in nature. On such occasions, time does not exist."
Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths. "~Joseph Campbell
In my experience, it is rarer to find a really happy person in a circle of millionaires than among vagabonds."
Always my soul hungered for less than it had"
History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs, and wooden shoes coming up."
Back home, I'm always focusing on something happening in the future. On expeditions, time stops, and you become like a stone age man, acting on instincts and knowing you are part of the universe."
Genes are rarely about inevitability, especially when it comes to humans, the brain, or behavior. They're about vulnerability, propensities, tendencies." ~Robert Sapolsky
The Land is not old. It only changes, becoming one thing and the next. We are the ones who ascribe age, the brevity of our lives demanding a beginning, middle, and end."
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."
The only thing that belongs to us is the time."
To abhor hunting is to hate the place from which you came, which is akin to hating yourself in some distant, abstract way." ~Steven Rinella