April 22, 2012

Sheshonq triumphs in Palestine | Ancient Egypt

Sheshonq triumphs in Palestine
Following the death of Solomon in 930 BC, the kingdoms of Judah and Israel under Rehoboam (Solomon's son) and Jeroboam I, respectively,

Sarcophagus of king Harsiese A
Throne name Hedj-kheper-re Setep-en-amun (‘Bright is the Manifestation of Re, Chosen of Re’) were at loggerheads and ripe for strong Egyptian military intervention. Sheshonq - Shishak of the Bible - defeated them both in 925 BC in a highly successful campaign, the like of which had not been seen since the days of Ramses III in the 20th Dynasty. He moved first against Judah, arriving before the walls of Jerusalem, held by Rehoboam. The city was surrounded but Sheshonq was bought off from entering it by being given 'the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house,- he even took away all: and he took away all the shields of gold which Solomon had made' (1 Kings 14: 26). All Solomon's treasures, except apparently the most sacred and emotive Ark of the Covenant, fell to Sheshonq. Pharaoh then turned his attention to Israel, pursuing his earlier protege Jeroboam, who fled over the Jordan. Finally, Sheshonq halted at Megiddo, the scene of Tuthmosis III's victory 500 years before, and erected a suitable victory stele in the manner of his predecessors.

Such success was duly signalled in the appropriate place - on the walls of the temple of Amun at Thebes - and the sandstone quarries at Gebel el-Silsila had to be reopened to provide the building material. Iuput, as High Priest of Amun, was also head of works. A great new court was constructed before the Second Pylon at Karnak, its south outer wall decorated with a huge relief of Sheshonq victorious through the grace of Amun and with captives falling to his might.

Soon after the triumphant Palestinian campaigns, Sheshonq went to join his ancestors in the group of royal tombs at Tanis, his mummy encased in a cartonnage and a silver coffin, both having Horus falcon heads to identify the king with Osiris-Sokar (p. 184).

Osorkon I, who succeeded his father, continued to provide strong patronage for the various leading priesthoods, thereby consolidating his position as well as maintaining a continuous building programme, especially at his native city of Bubastis. The chief priesthood of Amun at Karnak was taken from his brother, Iuput, and given to one of his sons, Sheshonq II, whom he took as co-regent in 890 BC. Sheshonq, however, predeceased his father by a few months, and both were buried at Tanis. The successor was Takelot I, another son of Osorkon by a minor wife. This reign, although 15 years in length, has left no major monuments and saw the beginning of the fragmentation of Egypt once more into two power bases.

Osorkon II succeeded Takelot I as pharaoh in 874 BC at much the same time that his cousin Harsiese succeeded his father (Sheshonq II) as High Priest of Amun at Karnak. Problems arose in Year 4 of Osorkon when Harsiese declared himself king in the south. Although he was only king in name, when Harsiese died Osorkon II consolidated his own position by appointing one of his sons, Nimlot, as High Priest at Karnak and another son, Sheshonq, as High Priest of Ptah at Memphis. Osorkon thereby had the two major priesthoods of Egypt in his family's grasp as a political move rather than from any religious motivation. Major building works were undertaken in the reign, especially at Bubastis in the temple of the tutelary cat-goddess Bastet. There Osorkon built a monumental red granite hall decorated with fine reliefs of himself and his wife Karomama I celebrating his jubilee (heb-sed) in Year 22. Other buildings in his name were constructed at Memphis, Tanis, Thebes and Leontopolis (to become the seat of the succeeding dynasty).

In the outside world of the Near East a growing menace was coming from Assyria, who turned her attentions towards the Levant after overcoming northern Mesopotamia and Syria, and with an eventual eye for Egypt. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858-828 BC) continued his father Ashurnasirpal II's campaigns into Syria/Palestine. In 853 Egypt was forced to confront the threat by aligning with Israel and neighbouring kingdoms, including her old ally Byblos; together they halted the Assyrian advance at the battle of Qarqar on the Orontes.

Takelot II succeeded his father Osorkon II in 850 and maintained stability in the south where his half-brother Nimlot was still in power at Thebes as High Priest. Nimlot had consolidated his position by extending north to Herakleopolis and placing his son Ptahwedjankhef in charge there. Nimlot then married his daughter Karomama II to Takelot II, thereby cementing a bond between north and south and becoming the father-in-law of his half-brother. Karomama must have been buried at Thebes, since her rather poor green-glazed composition ushabti figures have been appearing from there in the antiquities market for over 150 years, but her tomb has not been found.

Problems arose, however, in Year 11 of Takelot II with the death of Nimlot. The question of who should succeed him as High Priest of Amun led to open hostilities. Thebes, led by a Harsiese who claimed descent from the king Harsiese, revolted against Takelot's choice of his son Prince Osorkon. Nimlot's son, Ptahwedjankhef, Governor of Herakleopolis, supported Takelot's decision, thereby allowing Prince Osorkon an easy passage south past his fortress to curb the rebellious Thebans. The rebels were relentlessly crushed, the ringleaders executed and their bodies burnt to ensure that there would be no hope of an afterlife for them.

For the next four years peace reigned, but in Year 15 of Takelot II civil war once again struck the country. On this occasion, however, the revolt was not so easily put down and lasted for almost a decade. It was probably at this time that further incursions were made into the Valley of the Kings, with 'official' sanction, when the sarcophagus box of Ramses VI was overturned in a vain search for hidden treasure beneath it (p. 168).

When Takelot II died he was buried at Tanis, where he was found by Pierre Montet in a reused coffin in the antechamber of the tomb of Osorkon II. The Crown Prince Osorkon never succeeded to the throne because his younger brother Sheshonq moved to seize power, proclaiming himself pharaoh as Sheshonq III. He was to enjoy an incredibly long reign of 53 years. It was also to be the most confusing period of Egyptian history, with not only an initial split between north and south, Tanis and Thebes, but also a later rift between the east and the central Delta, Tanis and Leontopolis respectively.

There are a number of dates to use as chronological pegs in the long reign of Sheshonq III, but there are also large gaps in between. In Year 6, Harsiese reappeared as Chief High Priest of Amun, apparently without too much commotion at Thebes because Sheshonq had let the Thebans have their own way and choice. In Year 20 (c. 806 BC), the usurped Prince Osorkon was appointed to the High Priest's post at Thebes. Unusually, he had not been disposed of by his usurping younger brother. Then, in Year 25 (c. 800 BC), Harsiese once again assumed the office of High Priest, only to disappear, perhaps finally dead, in Year 29. Prince Osorkon had not died when Harsiese returned to power and was still evident in Upper Egypt with a controlling hand for another ten years.

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