The Boundary as a Watershed for Taxation
If the political centre is regarded as the centre of the entire world, there is no need to explain in detail where the boundary is located: it is right ‘at the end’. Nor is any detail necessary when the states are many but border territories that are inaccessible or uninhabited: mountains, woodlands, steppe and desert, any uncultivated and unsettled area. The territory controlled by the state resembles an ‘oasis’: there is no need for a boundary line, but rather for ‘gateways’, channels of controlled communication with other states (or other inhabited areas) beyond the depopulated belt. In Egypt, the desert and the sea provide natural boundaries but the two ‘gates’ facing Nubia and Asia have to be efficiently arranged. This permits communication and the transfer of goods and people, while also – and most importantly – allowing the filtering out of any dangerous external elements. The Nubian gateway, the Nile valley around the Second Cataract, had been fortified during the Middle Kingdom with a series of impressive fortresses. The Semna stelae of Sesostris III perfectly define the function of the gateway as a filter permitting only the desired goods (not men) to enter from an outer region which, clearly being seen as alien and dangerous, is to be excluded and exorcized. 1 Later on, during the New Kingdom, the Egyptian sphere expanded, fear became less dramatic 2 and the impressive fortresses of the Middle Kingdom fell into disuse.
As for the gateway to Asia, which was strongly protected during the Middle Kingdom by the fortified line of the ‘Wall of the Ruler’, this became much more ‘open’ during the New Kingdom, while still retaining its function as a filter. The frontier post is bureaucratically organized, movements are recorded day by day, with names, directions, purposes:
Regnal year 3, first month of Shomu, day 15. Going up by the retainer Ba'alry son of Djapero of Gaza. What he took to Syria: 2 dispatches, viz.