The Reconstruction of
Ancient History

The history of the ancient East is an interwoven nexus, embracing Egypt, Israel, Syria and Mesopotamia, known also as the Biblical lands. The interconnections extend to Asia Minor, to Mycenaean Greece, and to the Mediterranean islands—Cyprus, Crete, and the Aegean archipelago. The histories of many of these nations are, for most of their existence, devoid of absolute dates and depend on interrelations with other nations.

The chronologies of the Mycenaean civilization in Greece and of the Minoan civilization on Crete are built upon contacts with Egypt, for Egypt’s chronology is considered reliable. In turn, the widespread Mycenaean and Minoan contacts and influences found in the archaeological sites of many countries are distributed on the scale of time by detailed study of Mycenaean and Minoan pottery and its development. This pottery is found in countries as far apart as Italy and the Danubian region.

Egyptian History

Although Egypt’s chronology is used to determine the dates of other cultures, Egypt had no written account of its history, and the earliest surviving effort to put its past into a narrative is from the pen of Herodotus of the mid-fifth century before the present era, regarded by modern historians as largely unreliable.1

Though various king-lists from earlier times have been preserved, it is the list of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of Hellenistic times, (third pre-Christian century) that served the historiographers as the basis for making a narrative out of the Egyptian past. The names read on monuments were equated, often by trial and error, with Manethonian dynasties and kings. The mathematics of history, it was agreed, could not be entrusted to Manetho, and is largely borrowed from the sixteenth-century European chronographers, notably Joseph Scaliger, and his sixteenth- and seventeenth-century emulators Seth Calvisius and others,2 who dated in the same tables also various mythological motifs, such as the scandals among the Olympian gods or Heracles’ heroic exploits.

With the reading of the Egyptian hieroglyphs achieved in the nineteenth century, some selected dates of Scaliger were used by Lepsius (1810-84) to date the monuments and thus the reigns of the kings of Egypt whose names were on the monuments. Lepsius was, for instance, of the view that Ramses II was the pharaoh of the Exodus—and thus Biblical history, too, was drawn into a comprehensive scheme on which other histories could find their first foothold. Such was also the case with “Hittite” history because of a peace treaty of Ramses II with one of the Hittite kings (Hattusilis). Manethonian mathematics, or the number of years allotted to dynasties and kings, was soon disregarded.

Astronomical Dating3

Even before Young and Champollion first read the hieroglyphic texts in the 1820s, Biot and others decided that astronomical calendric calculations could be used to ascertain the dates of the Egyptian dynasties. It was known that the Egyptian civil year consisted of 365 days, approximately a quarter of a day short of the true sidereal year. Thus the calendric dates of the Egyptians would gradually have fallen out of their proper place in relation to the seasons, and made a complete circle in 365 x 4 = 1460 years.

With the decipherment of the multitudinous Egyptian texts, a few references to a star spdt were found, and were interpreted as recording the heliacal4 rising of the southern fixed star Sirius—and if from monuments it could also be learned in which months and on what day the star rose heliacally, events could be dated within the 1460-year-long “Sothic cycle.” This made it possible to build a chronology of Egypt around the few dates so fixed—and much work was spent in such an effort. With this as a basis, refinement could be achieved in various ways, most notably by trying to ascertain the length of the years of a king, usually relying on the highest year of his reign found recorded on monuments. Each king counted the years from his coronation—Egypt had no continuous timetable. However, in Egyptian texts no reference to calculating by Sothic observations was ever found.

Archaeological work in Egypt showed that besides the so-called pre-dynastic times, from which the data are incomplete, the historical past was twice interrupted for centuries when the land fell into neglect. The First Intermediate Period intervened between the epochs that received the names of the Old and Middle Kingdoms; the Second Intermediate Period between the Middle and New Kingdoms; the New Kingdom consists of the Manethonian dynasties Eighteen, Nineteen and Twenty—what follows is called the Late Kingdom.

Hebrew History

Hebrew history has a narrative that consists of the book of Genesis—the history of the world in which catastrophic events (the Deluge, the overturning of the Tower of Babel, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) come to the fore, the latest of these coinciding with the beginning of the age of the Patriarchs which ends with the migration of the fourth generation to Egypt because of drought in Canaan. This part of the history is considered largely legendary. Following a sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus—the subject of the other four books of the Pentateuch—inaugurates the historical period. The historical events until the Exile to Babylon are further narrated in the books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, and Prophets and the post-Babylonian period in the books Nehemiah, Ezra, and of the later prophets. Many non-Scriptural books with varying degrees of historical veracity add and take over where the Old Testament ceases its narrative.

It was agreed since the days of Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian of the days of Emperor Vespasian, that the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt took place after the Second Intermediate period, during the Egyptian New Kingdom, whether at its very beginning or several generations later. However, they disagree among themselves, some placing the Exodus under Thutmose III of the Eighteenth Dynasty, others under Amenhotep III or his heir Akhnaton of the same dynasty (the time of the el-Amarna correspondence), some placing it under Ramses II or Merneptah of the Nineteenth Dynasty (“Israel Stele” ), and some as late as the Twentieth Dynasty (after Ramses III repelled the invasion of the Peoples of the Sea, supposedly in the first quarter of the twelfth century). So many various dates for the Exodus—a point that connects the Hebrew and the Egyptian histories—could be contemplated because these two histories as they are usually taught are remarkably out of contact for the entire length of the New Kingdom, and equally so for the rest of their histories, down to the time of Alexander of Macedon.

The Revised Chronology

My approach to the problem of the synchronization of ancient histories took the following form. Upon realizing that the Exodus was preceded and accompanied by natural disturbances described as plagues of darkness, of earthquake, of vermin, accompanied by hurricanes and followed by a disruption of the sea, by volcanic phenomena in the desert and then by the prolonged “Shadow of Death” of the years of wandering, I looked for similar descriptions in Egyptian literary relics and found them in a papyrus ascribed to a certain Ipuwer, an eyewitness and survivor of the events. Additional data I found in an inscription carved on a stone shrine found at el-Arish on the Egyptian-Palestinian frontier. Taking the latest possible date for the events described in the papyrus Ipuwer, namely, the collapse of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt on the eve of its being overrun by the Hyksos, the date was still centuries earlier than the earliest considered dates for the Exodus on the Egyptian time-scale.

If the parallels in texts elucidated by me are not a matter of coincidence, then the test would be in whether it would be possible, in leveling the two histories by synchronizing the end of the Middle Kingdom and the Exodus, to trace contemporaneity also in subsequent generations, not yet deciding whether the Egyptian history would need extirpation of “ghost centuries” or the Israelite history extension by the insertion of “lost centuries.”

The next clue in my work of reconstruction was in equating the Asiatic Hyksos (called Amu by the Egyptians) that overran Egypt, prostrated as it was by the natural disaster described in the Ipuwer Papyrus, with the Amalekites that the Israelites met on their flight from Egypt. The autochthonous Arab sources, as preserved by medieval Moslem historians, refer to a several-centuries-prolonged occupation of Egypt by the Amalekites, evicted from the Hedjaz by plagues of earthquakes and vermin, while tidal waves swept other tribes from their lands.

I could establish that the period of the Judges, when the population was oppressed by the Amalekites and Midianites, was the time of the Second Intermediate Period in Egypt and that Saul, who captured the capital of the Amalekites (el-Arish being the ancient Hyksos capital Avaris) put an end to the Amalekite-Hyksos domination from Mesopotamia to Egypt. In Egypt the Eighteenth Dynasty came into existence, thus inaugurating the New Kingdom. Was it ca. -1030, the time the Biblical scholars would assign to Saul’s capture of the Amalekite fortress, or ca. -1580, the time the Egyptologists would place the fall of Avaris?

King David fought the remnants of the Amalekites; his marshal Joab invaded Arabia, while Amenhotep I ruled in Egypt; Solomon accordingly had to be a contemporary of Thutmose I and of Hatshepsut; I could establish that this queen came to Jerusalem and had reliefs depicting her journey to the Divine Land carved on the walls of her temple at Deir el-Bahari. In Hebrew history and legend she lives as the Queen of Sheba who visited Solomon.

The next generation saw Thutmose III invade Judea, sack the palace and temple of Jerusalem, and impose a tribute on the now-divided country. The furnishings of the Temple, carried away by Thutmose, were depicted by him on a temple wall in Karnak. These depictions match the Biblical record of some of the Temple furnishings.

Amenhotep II was identified with the king whom an ancient epic poem portrayed as leading an enormous army against the city of Ugarit, only to be pursued to the Sinai Desert. He was further shown to be the alter ego of the Scriptural Zerah, whose enterprise started similarly and ended identically.

The last three chapters of the first volume of Ages in Chaos deal with the el-Amarna correspondence; if the reconstruction is correct then the time in Judah must be that of King Jehoshaphat and in Israel of King Ahab. It so happened that the books of Kings and Chronicles are especially rich in many details of the events that took place under these kings, and the numerous letters on the clay tablets of the el-Amarna archive present a perfect ground for comparison as to persons, places, names, and events. Scores of identifications and parallels are brought forth. Did Jehoshaphat and his generals and Ahab and his adversaries in Damascus exchange letters with Amenhotep III and his heir Akhnaton across the centuries?

At first we left the problem open, which of the two histories would require re-adjustment—is the Israelite history in need of finding lost centuries, or does the Egyptian history require excision of ghost centuries? Soon it became a matter of certainty that of the two timetables, the Egyptian and the Israelite, the former is out of step with historical reality by over five centuries.

A chronology with centuries that never occurred made necessary the introduction of “Dark Ages” between the Mycenaean and the Hellenic periods in Greece. Thus the shortening of Egyptian history by the elimination of phantom centuries must have as a consequence the shortening of Mycenaean-Greek history by the same length of time.

The Greek Past

The theme pursued in this volume is the basic design of Greek history—the passage of the Mycenaean civilization and the intervening Dark Age of five centuries duration before the Hellenic or historical age starts ca. 700 years before the present era. This structure of the Greek past is subjected to a reexamination as to the historicity of the Dark Age.

Greek antiquity is conventionally divided into three periods—Helladic, Hellenic, and Hellenistic. The Helladic period in its later subdivision comprises the Mycenaean civilization. It ends not long after the conquest of Troy, regularly put about -1200. Its last generation is dubbed “the Heroic Age.” At this point five centuries of dark ages are inserted into Greek history. The Hellenic period embraces the Ionian and classical ages, and stretches from ca. -700 to the conquest of the East by Alexander of Macedon. With his march toward the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Indus (-331 to -327), the culture of Greece was spread through the Orient and was itself modified by oriental elements; this was the beginning of the Hellenistic Age. Mycenae can be regarded as the cultural center of the Late Helladic period; Athens of the Hellenic; and Alexandria of the Hellenistic. In this scheme, as just said, the five centuries of the Dark Age are inserted between the Helladic and the Hellenic or, in other nomenclature, following the Mycenaean and preceding the Ionian ages.

The Mycenaean Age in Greece and the contemporary and partly preceding Minoan Age on Crete have no chronologies of their own and depend on correlations with Egypt. Objects inscribed with the names of Amenhotep II, Amenhotep III and Queen Tiy of the Eighteenth Dynasty, found at Mycenae, were like a calendar leaf. Then excavations at el-Amarna in Egypt established the presence of Mycenaean ware in Akhnaton’s short-lived city. Such quantities of Mycenaean ware came to light in the course of the excavations that a street in el-Amarna was dubbed “Greek Street.” Since Akhnaton’s capital existed for only about a decade and a half, a very precise dating for the Mycenaean ware could be evinced, thus providing a link between Mycenaean history and the established Egyptian chronology. It was therefore concluded that the Mycenaean civilization was at its apogee in the days of Amenhotep III and Akhnaton of the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty.

The first and most important consequence was a radical recasting of Greek history. Since Akhnaton’s conventional date was the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries before the present era, Mycenaean ware was also ascribed to the same period. By the end of the twelfth century before the present era, the Mycenaean civilization would have run its course. The Greek or Hellenic time does not start until about -700. The years in between are without history on Greek soil. There existed tenacious memories of the time of the tyrants who ruled in the late eighth and seventh centuries, but beyond that, there was complete darkness.

Thus by the 1890s the Hellenists were coerced by the evidence presented by the Egyptologists to introduce five centuries of darkness between the end of the Mycenaean Age and the beginning of the Hellenic. As we shall read on a later page, there was some consternation on the part of classical scholars when first the fact dawned on them that between the Mycenaean age and the historical Greek time there was a span, more in the nature of a lacuna, of several centuries’ duration. In the end they accepted the Egyptian plan as being valid for Greece—still without having investigated the evidence on which the claim of the Egyptologists was founded.5

In Ages in Chaos we have seen that, with the fall of the Middle Kingdom and the Exodus synchronized, events in the histories of the peoples of the ancient world coincide all along the centuries.

For a space of over one thousand years records of Egyptian history have been compared with the records of the Hebrews, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and finally with those of the Greeks, with a resulting correspondence which denotes synchronism.

In Volume I of Ages in Chaos it was shown in great detail why Akhnaton of the Eighteenth Dynasty must be placed in the latter part of the ninth century. If Akhnaton flourished in -840 and not in -1380, the ceramics from Mycenae found in the palace of Akhnaton are younger by five or six hundred years than they are presumed to be, and the Late Mycenaean period would accordingly move forward by about half a thousand years on the scale of time.

Yet independently of the results attained in Ages in Chaos, the problem of blank centuries, usually termed “dark ages,” increasingly claims the attention of archaeologists and historians. Although the enigma of “dark centuries” reappears in many countries of the ancient East, in no place did it create such discomfort as in Hellenic history. There it is an inveterate problem that dominates the so-called Homeric question: The historical period in Greece, the Hellenic Age, is ushered in by the sudden and bright light of a literary creation—the Homeric epics, of perfect form, of exquisite rhythm, of a grandeur unsurpassed in world literature, a sudden sunrise with no predawn light in a previously profoundly dark world, with the sun starting its day at zenith—from almost five hundred years that divide the end of the Mycenaean Age from the Hellenic Age, not a single inscription or written word survived.

Against this set-up the Homeric Question grew to ever greater proportions. In the light of—or better to say—in the darkness of the Homeric problem, we will try to orient ourselves by scanning some early chapters of Greek archaeology, and having done this, we should return to the problem of the deciphered Linear B script. Two timetables are applied simultaneously to the past of Greece, one built on the evidence of Greece itself, the other on relations with Egypt; thus instead of any new discovery reducing the question to smaller confines, every subsequent discovery enlarged the confines and decreased the chances of finding a solution.


  1. [Cf. Ion Ghica, Istoriile lui Erodot, vol. II (Bucuresti, 1912)]
  2. They wrote long before the Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered.
  3. See my essay, “Astronomy and Chronology,” Supplement to Peoples of the Sea, (New York, London, 1977); first published in Pensée IVR IV (1973).
  4. By heliacal rising is meant the first appearance of a star after invisibility due to conjunction with the sun.
  5. See my “Astronomy and Chronology,” cited above.