April 22, 2012

Egyptian 21st Dynasty at Tanis

The 21st Dynasty at Tanis
The move of power and control from Upper Egypt to Lower Egypt, especially reflected in the founding of cities in the eastern Delta by kings in the later 19th and 20th Dynasties, made the division of Egypt complete. Whilst the autonomous High Priests of Amun at Thebes paid a nodding allegiance to the kings in the Delta, they were nevertheless a separate entity.

The ruins of Tanis today
After Ramses XI died in 1070, Smendes proclaimed himself king, ruling from the Delta. With his accession, the 'official' 21st Dynasty may be said to have begun. Manetho is able to present more detail with this dynasty, listing seven kings, each with their length of reign, and allocating a total of 130 years for them. This corresponds well with the overall dates postulated here of 1069 to 945. Since Smendes is known to have lived at Memphis at least for a while, no doubt the crowning ceremony was carried out there as of old. The new king's origins are obscure and he seems to have consolidated his position by marrying one of the many daughters of Ramses XI.


The Delta capital was moved in Smendes' reign from Piramesse to Tanis, which was largely rebuilt, using many monuments of Middle and New Kingdom date transferred from other sites. It was to become a great city of obelisks. Smendes also carried out extensive work at Karnak, which included the restoration of a section of the temple's great enclosure wall that protected it from the waters of the annual inundation.

Smendes died in 1043 and the brief interlude before the accession of Psusennes I in 1039 was filled by Amenemnisu, a son of Herihor and Nodjmet. Civil war still raged in the Theban area, and a number of the dissidents were exiled to the western oases, then held by Libyan chiefs. A black granite stele in the Louvre records the banishment of these people and, strangely, their subsequent permit to return under an oracular decree from Amun. It all seems to have been part of a plan between the north and south, the secular and the religious factions. This rapprochement was set in motion by the next king Psusennes I in allowing the marriage of his daughter Isiemkheb to the High Priest Menkheperre.

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