April 26, 2012

Roman Egypt

Roman Egypt
Although Rome conquered Egypt with the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra, the country did not become a Roman province in the normal manner. Octavian (who became Augustus in 27 BC and the first emperor of Rome) took Egypt as his personal estate. It was ruled by a prefect, answerable to the emperor, and no member of the Imperial family or the Senate was allowed to visit the country without the express permission of Augustus. Egypt's production of vast quantities of grain was an important factor in the maintenance of stability in Rome - 'Give them [the mob] bread and circuses', Juvenal wrote, and Egypt provided the bread with the annual grain fleet that sailed from Alexandria .

Ancient Rome
Successive Roman emperors after Augustus maintained the pharaonic fiction, appearing in Egyptian dress on reliefs or statues and carrying out the old rituals. Without the provision of an identifying cartouche they can rarely be recognized. From Augustus until the reform of the mint at Alexandria under Diocletian in AD 294 coinage was struck on the Greek module, mainly tetradrachms (four-drachm pieces) that bore the emperor's likeness as a Roman, an inscription identifying him around his head in Greek, and often with a reverse type that harked back to ancient Egyptian themes or deities.

Roman Egypt was immensely prosperous and many new cities were founded, especially in the Faiyum area, with the classic Roman buildings of baths, basilica and agora. Some temples were still built following the old plans, - for example, Esna reflects the layout of the earlier Ptolemaic temple at Dendera and has several 1st century AD emperors represented in reliefs on its walls. One of the best known buildings in Egypt, Pharaoh's Bed or Trajan's Kiosk, on the island of Philae, was built by Trajan (AD 98-117) and was intended to be a grand monumental entrance to the temple of Isis, but it was never finished. On Philae occurs the latest known firmly datable hieroglyphic inscription, carved in AD 394. Pompey's Pillar at Alexandria has nothing to do with him but was erected in the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305). Generally, however, Roman period monuments, apart from the sand-swept town sites, are few in Egypt. Although paying lip-service to the old ideas and religion, in varying degrees, pharaonic Egypt had in effect died with the last native pharaoh, Nectanebo II in 343 BC, a thousand years before the rise of Islam and the fall of Egypt under its sway in AD 641.

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Cleopatra Queen of Ancient Egypt

Cleopatra Queen
Cleopatra and the last of the Ptolemies

Egypt was bequeathed to Ptolemy XIPs daughter, Cleopatra VII, aged 17, with the injunction that she should marry the elder of her two brothers, Ptolemy XIII. He, with the aid of ever-scheming palace courtiers, this time Pothinus and Achillas, attempted to dispose of her, but she was warned in time and fled to safety in Syria. However, Cleopatra was soon back with an army at the gates of Egypt at Pelusium where a stand-off between her and her brother took place, neither side being willing to make a move.

Cleopatra
Rome now entered the scene with Julius Caesar pursuing his defeated adversary Pompey after the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. Pompey, seeking sanctuary with Ptolemy XIII, landed at Pelusium and was immediately assassinated by the conspirators Pothinus and Achillas, who were backing the Caesarian faction. When Caesar arrived at Alexandria, and was presented with Pompey's severed head, he had Pothinus executed (Achillas met his death later at the hands of Arsinoe, Cleopatra's younger sister). At Alexandria Caesar summoned the young king and queen before him. He favoured the queen, Cleopatra, as history and so many plays and novels recount. Ptolemy, with Achillas, unsuccessfully besieged the Romans on the Pharos island and Ptolemy was drowned in the attack.

In order to maintain the necessary dual rule on the throne, Cleopatra now married her younger brother, Ptolemy XIV. She simultaneously became Caesar's mistress and bore him a son, Ptolemy XV Caesarion. Cleopatra is shown in a relief on the rear wall of the temple of Hathor at Dendera presenting the young boy to the gods. It is the only relief of her in Egypt. Although her beauty has been fabled in literature, Cleopatra was above all things a very clever, intelligent and political woman - she had to be to captivate two such men as Caesar and Antony in turn and endeavour to use them to maintain her kingdom. She was said to be the only one of the Ptolemies who could understand and speak Egyptian. Egypt was now simply a rich pawn in the great struggle for power after Caesar's death between Octavian, Caesar's heir, and Antony. It came to a head at Actium on the west coast of Greece on the afternoon of 2 September 31 BC. The sea battle swung first one way and then the other when, for some unaccountable reason - some say a mutiny, others say misunderstood orders - Antony broke off the engagement and sailed for the open sea after Cleopatra's ships and followed her to Egypt. Octavian was left master of the field.

The following year Octavian took the fight to Egypt and entered Alexandria on 1 August 30 BC. Cleopatra, as is well known, committed suicide rather than be an ornament in a Roman triumph. Antony fell on his sword, and Octavian had them buried together in the royal mausoleum in the Sema at Alexandria that Cleopatra had prepared.

Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt 305-30 BC

Ptolemaic Dynasty
305-30 BC
  • Ptolemy VII (Neos Philopator) : 145 BC
  • Ptolemy VIII (Euergetes II) :170-163, 145-116 BC
  • Ptolemy IX (Soter II) : 116-110, 109-107, 88-80 BC
  • Ptolemy X (Alexander I) :110-109, 107-88 BC
  • Ptolemy XI (Alexander II) : 80 BC
  • Ptolemy XII (Neos Dionysos) : Iwaenpanetjernehem Setepptah Irmaat : 80-58, 55-51 BC
  • Queen Berenice IV : 58-55 BC
  • Queen Cleopatra VII (netjeret-merites) : 51-30 BC
  • Ptolemy XV (Caesarion) : Iwapanetjer - entynehem - Setepenptah - Irmaatenre - Sekhemankhamun : 36-30 BC
The widowed Cleopatra was left in Alexandria with the young heir, Ptolemy VII Neos Philopator, and little protection since her late husband's army, largely composed of mercenaries, had joined Demetrius II in Syria. Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Cyrenaica, saw his chance and returned to Egypt, driving the queen and heir to take refuge in Memphis. A reconciliation was arranged and Euergetes married his sister Cleopatra, she agreeing to the match to protect her son's interests. However, as soon as she produced an heir for Euergetes, he had Ptolemy VII, his stepson and nephew, killed.

Ptolemy I
Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, repulsive and nicknamed 'physon' (potbelly), was captivated by his niece, also Cleopatra, the daughter of his sister-wife Cleopatra. The niece agreed to the liaison so long as she could also become queen - so mother and daughter, sister and niece of Euergetes, became joint queens as Cleopatra II and III, generally differentiated as Cleopatra the Sister and Cleopatra the Wife. The former was much beloved by the people since her late husband Ptolemy VI's reign was such a shining example and memory compared to their present situation. Public resentment against Ptolemy VIII grew to such a point that he fled to Cyprus, taking the younger Cleopatra (III, the Wife), their two children and the young boy Memphites (his son by Cleopatra II) with him. His flight was not a moment too soon, for the mob broke into the palace seeking his blood.

In Cyprus, Euergetes plotted his return to Egypt where his sister, Cleopatra II, reigned as Cleopatra Philometor Soteira. In a fit of maniacal revenge against his sister and the Alexandrian mob which had been busy destroying his statues and memories of him, he murdered Memphites, his own son by Cleopatra II, and sent the child's dismembered body to her as a present on her birthday.

In 129, now strong enough to invade Egypt, Euergetes returned from Cyprus and in 128 Cleopatra II fled for protection to her daughter Cleopatra Thea, now married to Demetrius II of Syria. Strangely, she was to return to Egypt, and Euergetes survived until 116. What happened to his sister-wife Cleopatra II after her return is not known, but she presumably predeceased him as her daughter, Cleopatra III, inherited Egypt by Euergetes' will.

Cleopatra III

Cleopatra III, now queen-mother and regent for her two young sons, soon proved that she was as strong-willed as any of her ancestors. Although the younger son, Ptolemy X Alexander I, was her favourite, the two boys had, by popular pressure, to be seen to rule jointly with her so the elder, Ptolemy IX Soter II, was associated with them. He began building the temple of Hathor at Dendera, to which many of his successors added, including Cleopatra VII (below) and several of the Roman emperors. In 106 BC Ptolemy IX, whose nickname was 'lathyrus' (chickpea), fled to Cyprus because he had been accused of plotting to murder his mother. Since Cleopatra had always favoured Ptolemy Alexander, there is a strong possibility that the charge was false in an attempt to dispose of Ptolemy Soter. Cleopatra took her younger son, Ptolemy Alexander, to be her consort, and he may well have had a hand in her death at the age of 60 in 101 BC.

Ptolemy X practised the gross excesses of his immediate forebears and was so huge that he was incapable of walking on his own without support. As with Ptolemy VIII, the Egyptians eventually turned against him; - he fled but was killed sea between Lycia and Cyprus. The older brother, Ptolemy IX, was therefore able to return and claim his throne, dying in 80 BC aged 62.

Ptolemy IX had no legitimate male heir so he left the throne to his daughter Berenice. She needed to have a male consort and a nephew, Ptolemy XI Alexander II, was found to marry her,- but Ptolemy disliked Berenice, who was older than him. Foolishly he decided to reign alone and had her murdered within a month of their wedding. However, the queen had been a popular choice with the people, and he was lynched after a 19-day reign. This left a royal vacuum on the throne again. The only male descendants of Ptolemy I available, albeit illegimate, were the sons of Ptolemy IX by an Alexandrian Greek concubine whose name is not even known. They were then living in safe exile at the court of Mithridates VI of Pontus at Sinope. The eldest of the boys was proclaimed king as Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos and, to complete the royal pair, he married his sister Tryphaena.

Rome was now the major factor in all Mediterranean politics and Ptolemy XII sought to legitimize his rule not only by an Egyptian coronation but also with Roman approval. Like his predecessors, his habits were not to the liking of the populace - he earned the nickname 'auletes' (the flute player) - and his heavy taxes and fauning attitude to Rome made history repeat itself. He fled to Rome, driven out of the country by the people.

Once more the throne of Egypt was vacant with only a female heir, Ptolemy XII's daughter Berenice. She needed a male consort and was married to a Seleucid cousin. As strong-willed as her female forebears, she had him strangled within a week of their wedding and then took as her husband Archelaus, whom she knew as a friend from her exile at the court of Mithridates VI. They ruled for a brief period of four years whilst Ptolemy XII plotted in Rome to regain his throne.

He needed two things initially to achieve this: recognition by the Roman Senate, and an army. A large bribe to Julius Caesar (underwritten from Egyptian revenues) secured the first, and a similar large bribe to the pro-consul of Syria, Gabinius, secured the use of his three legions. They marched on Alexandria and in the conflict Archelaus was killed, Berenice captured, imprisoned and then murdered. Ptolemy XII had returned but ruled Egypt only by virtue of the backing of the Roman legions. His second reign lasted just four years. History records that Ptolemy XII was neither valiant nor religious, despite the fact that he is so represented in the reliefs he completed on the temple pylons at Edfu and Philae.
  
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April 25, 2012

Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt Part 3/3

Ptolemy IV married his sister Arsinoe in 217, and she produced an heir seven years later. The king then turned his affections to another woman, Agathoclea, who, with her brother Agathocles, encouraged his excesses. They were probably the cause of his death at the age of 41, leaving his sister-wife Arsinoe, who was soon poisoned by Sosibius and Agathocles, and his young son who became Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The conspirators then appointed themselves the five-year-old king's guardians, but suspicion about the events had been aroused. Matters came to a head when the popular general Tlepolemus, who held Egypt's eastern frontier fortress Pelusium, rescued the king and the mob broke into the royal palace at Alexandria and lynched Agathocles and his sister Agathoclea.

Gold octadrachm issued by Ptolemy IV Philopator, British Museum
The map of Ptolemaic possessions and naval bases around the Mediterranean was shrinking as other rulers took advantage of Egypt's internal weaknesses to seize them. As an endeavour to settle the civil commotions, it was decided to crown the now 12-year-old Ptolemy V as king at the old capital of Memphis and make grants of land and tax remissions. Much of this is recorded in the decree of the priests of Memphis in 196 BC and inscribed in three scripts (hieroglyphs, demotic and Greek) on the Rosetta Stone found in 1799.

An uneasy peace was made with Syria in 192 when Ptolemy V married Cleopatra (I), the daughter of Antiochus the Great. In the last 13 years of his reign they had two sons and a daughter, of whom the elder boy became Ptolemy VI, Philometor, at roughly the same age as his father had become king. His mother acted as regent, but when she died five years later two greedy officials, Eulaeus and Lenaeus, appointed themselves guardians, much as had happened under the previous Ptolemy. They were foolish enough to declare war on Antiochus IV in 170 and were soundly beaten near Pelusium. The young Ptolemy was now Antiochus' prisoner and so the Egyptians declared Ptolemy's younger brother, also Ptolemy, and his sister Cleopatra, king and queen.

The curious situation thus arose of there being two Ptolemies, brothers, both nominally declared rulers of Egypt. Both sides - the Egyptians on behalf of the younger brother (Ptolemy Euergetes), and Antiochus (holding Ptolemy Philometor, his own nephew) - appealed to Rome as the major power for aid. The outcome was that Ptolemy Philometor ruled in the old capital of Memphis, and his younger brother Euergetes in Alexandria with his sister Cleopatra.

Antiochus IV returned to Syria in 169, but he was still a dominant power in Egypt by virtue of his protection of Ptolemy VI, which was an anathema to the brothers and sister alike. They, therefore, joined forces and appealed to Rome for help against Antiochus. Antiochus for his part marched to Pelusium, where he demanded control not only of this frontier fortress, but also Cyprus, an Egyptian possession. Both were denied him so he marched on Memphis and then turned north to Alexandria. At that moment Rome's hands were tied because of her involvement in the Macedonian war with Perseus, but on 22 June 168, at the battle of Pydna, Perseus was defeated. Rome was now free to respond to the Ptolemaic plea and a three-man mission sailed for Alexandria, led by Caius Popilius Laenas.

The confrontation between the Senate's representatives and Antiochus IV took place in July outside Alexandria at Eleusis. The Senate's decree was that Antiochus should vacate Egypt and Cyprus immediately. He asked for time to consider. Popilius refused and, taking his stick and drawing a circle in the sand around Antiochus' feet, demanded his answer before he left the circle. Antiochus realized that Rome was now the major state in the Mediterranean; he had no option but to comply with the Senate's demand. Ptolemy VI was confirmed as ruler in Egypt and his younger brother, Euergetes, was made king of Cyrenaica.

The next quarter-century of Ptolemy VI's reign passed quietly with Egypt prospering. In 145, however, he was mortally wounded in battle in Syria, where he had gone in support of his daughter, Cleopatra Thea who was married to the dissolute Alexander Balas (150-146 BC). Alexander was to be removed ( and subsequently beheaded by his own soldiers) and Demetrius II became king, similarly marrying Cleopatra Thea.

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Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt Part 2/3

Ancient Ptolemaic Dynasty 305-30 BC Part 2
The Ptolemies were monarchs in the great outside world of Hellenistic rulers whilst in Egypt they continued the line of god-kings, paying lip service to the prominent priesthood that, with an excellent civil service, kept the country stable and prosperous. The Ptolemies, and also many of their queens, appeared on the coinage portrayed in fine Hellenistic royal style; at the same time, in Egypt, they appeared on temple reliefs with full pharaonic trappings, essentially in the old styles tempered by Mediterranean artistic influences of more rounded limbs and fleshier bodies. Generally, only the cartouches make it possible to identify them individually, so bland are the representations on the reliefs. Problems arise with some reliefs where the cartouches were left empty of a name, there being uncertainty as to who would be on the throne at completion.

Ptolemaic Dynasty
During Ptolemy I's reign were laid the beginnings of the many vast building projects of temples and towns that were to follow throughout the Ptolemaic dynasty. Chief amongst them was the Pharos (lighthouse) of Alexandria, actually completed in Ptolemy II's reign, that became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and the Library that became one of the great centres of learning. The finest extant temples in Egypt are all of the Ptolemaic period - Dendera, Edfu and Philae - and many of them, like European cathedrals, were added to and embellished by several rulers over a long period. Most of these temples seem to have been built exactly over the sites of earlier structures, which makes it extremely difficult to ascertain their previous building history.

In 285 Ptolemy I took as co-ruler one of his sons by Berenice, who became sole ruler as Ptolemy II Philadelphus on his father's death in 282. His was a successful reign which saw the expansion of Ptolemaic possessions around the Mediterranean and internal stability in Egypt.

Ptolemy III Euergetes had been brought up by his stepmother, Arsinoe II (see box), and succeeded to the throne at the age of 30. He married Berenice, the daughter of his half-uncle Magus, king of Cyrenaica. Shortly after taking the throne, Ptolemy was called to the support of his sister Berenice, wife of Antiochus II, in Syria. Court intrigues there by the king's first wife, Laodice, had led to his death by poisoning and, before Ptolemy could reach Antioch, the death of his sister Berenice and her son, his young nephew.

Ptolemy sacked Antioch in revenge for their deaths and then continued campaiging into Babylonia for the next five years, leaving his wife, Berenice, as head of state with a panel of advisors. When trouble erupted in Egypt he returned rapidly to put down the dissidents. Ptolemy III began building the great temple dedicated to Horus at Edfu in the tenth year of his reign (237) but the main structure was not finished until 231 BC, in the reign of his son. The temple was formally opened in 142 under Ptolemy VIII, although the reliefs on the great pylon had to wait until Ptolemy XII to be completed.

Like his father, Ptolemy III's reign of 25 years saw Egypt prosper and expand and he was succeeded by his eldest son, Ptolemy IV Philopator in 222 BC. Unlike his ancestors, this Ptolemy led a dissolute life, aided and abetted by Sosibius, an Alexandrian Greek who had ingratiated himself into high office and made sure that he was indispensable. Acting on a wild rumour that Sosibius may well have started, Ptolemy agreed to have his mother Berenice and his brother Magus respectively poisoned and scalded to death within a year of his accession. There was one military excursion during Ptolemy IV's reign when Antiochus III of Syria, led to believe that Egypt would be easy prey under its dissolute monarch, moved through Phoenicia taking Egyptian vassal cities. Fortunately for Ptolemy, Antiochus held back from the fortress city of Pelusium, which could not have withstood him, and agreed to a four- month truce that Ptolemy, with Sosibius' aid, used to recruit foreign mercenaries and train an Egyptian levy army. At the battle of Raphia in 21Ptolemy triumphed over Antiochus, but the Egyptian recruits had realized their own strength and there were revolts in the Delta.


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April 24, 2012

Ptolemaic Dynasty in Ancient Egypt Part 1/3

Ptolemaic Dynasty
305-30 BC

  • Ptolemy I (Soter I)
Meryamun Setepenre : 305-282 BC
  • Ptolemy II (Philadelphia)
Userkaenre Meryamun : 285-246 BC
  • Ptolemy III (Euergetes I) 
Iwaennetjerwysenwy Sekhemankhre Setepamun : 246-222 BC
  • Ptolemy IV (Philopator) 
waennetjerwy- menkhwy Setepptah Userkare
Sekhemankhamun :222-205 BC
  • Ptolemy V (Epiphanes) 
Iwaennetjerwy- merwyitu Setepptah Userkare Sekhem-ankhamun : 205-180 BC
  • Ptolemy VI (Philometor) 
Iwaennetjerwyper Setepenptahkhepri Irmaatenamunre : 180-164, 163-145 BC

Bust of Ptolemy I in the Louvre Museum
When Alexander left Egypt to conquer the rest of the known world, he left the Persian infrastructure in place and appointed as the satrap one Cleomenes, a banker of Naucratis. This post was next taken over by Ptolemy I, the son of Lagus - Alexander's boyhood friend at Pella who later became one of his trusted generals. When Alexander died in 323, Ptolemy acted, nominally at least, as satrap for Alexander's two successors in Egypt. Cleomenes, in Alexander's name, had extorted money from the people, robbed temples and, worse, embezzled the soldiers' pay. Ptolemy had little option when he found out but to try, sentence and execute him.

With the break-up of Alexander's empire and no strong and obvious heir his generals, known as the diadochi ('followers'), pursued their independent interests. Ptolemy moved to Egypt, answerable in name only to the Council of State that had been set up in Babylon after Alexander's death, and to Perdiccas, the regent who held Alexander's signet ring.

At Babylon, Alexander's body had been prepared for the long journey back to Vergina, the royal burial ground in Macedonia, where Philip II's tomb has been found in recent years. On the journey, at Damascus, Ptolemy made his most astute move: he kidnapped the body on the pretext that Alexander had wanted to be buried in the shrine of Ammon at Siwa. The body was taken first to Memphis - where, nine years earlier, Alexander had been crowned pharaoh - pending the completion of the Siwa tomb. In the event the tomb was built at Alexandria. According to Strabo it was located in the area of the royal palaces known as the 'Sema'. Although Octavian/Augustus visited the tomb, it has never been found and the site is now probably under the sea, the coastline having shifted since then.

With Alexander's body under his control, Ptolemy had an immense political and religious advantage, and Perdiccas realized this. In the spring of 321 BC he marched against Ptolemy with an army of 5000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry, but was repulsed near Memphis and then murdered by his own officers.

The diadochi continued to war amongst themselves, although Antigonus Gonatus, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army, endeavoured to keep them under control by a firm policy of repression, replacement and execution where necessary. To ward him off three of the diadochi, Ptolemy, Lysimachus and Cassander, entered into an uneasy alliance that was to pay handsome dividends. When Antigonus prepared to attack Cassander in Macedon, Ptolemy marched against Antigonus' son Demetrius Poliorcetes and defeated him at Gaza in 312. A peace treaty the following year confirmed Ptolemy as satrap in Egypt.

Wars amongst the diadochi continued. Ptolemy lost the sea battle of Salamis in Cyprus against Demetrius in 306 BC but held Antigonus back on land the same year at Gaza. At the battle of Ipsus in 301 Antigonus was killed and the three allies divided the spoils of empire between them. Ptolemy added Palestine and lower Syria to his Egyptian empire and under his rule they prospered.

Ptolemy had secured his link back to the pharaonic line by marrying a daughter of Nectanebo II, but she had been set aside in 320 for Eurydice, daughter of Antipater, Regent of Macedon. By her Ptolemy had four children, and then another three by Berenice, a widowed lady- in-waiting to Eurydice, who had already borne three children (one of whom, Magus, was later to become king of Cyrenaica).

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Macedonian Kings 332-305 BC and Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs

Macedonian Kings
332-305 BC

  • Alexander the Great (Alexander III) - Meryamun Setepenre : 332-323 BC
  • Philip Arrhidaeus (Meryamun Setepenre) : 323-317 BC
  • Alexander IV (Haaibre Setepenamun) : 317-305 BC
Philip II, king of Macedon
When Philip II was assassinated in Macedonia in 336 BC, his 20-year-old son Alexander took up his father's intended attack on the crumbling Persian empire. Marching and fighting southwards over the next few years, and onwards through Asia Minor and the Levant, Alexander decisively defeated Darius III at Issus in 333 and entered Egypt in 332. Making his way to the oracle of Ammon in the Oasis of Siwa, he was hailed as the god's son, pharaoh incarnate. The Egyptians looked upon him as a divine being and saviour. At the mouth of the Nile he founded Alexandria, the first, and greatest, of the many cities that were to bear his name. Although his sojourn in Egypt was short, his influence was immense and lasting. On his orders restorations and repairs were carried out at the temples devastated in the Persian attack of 343. At Luxor temple the holy of holies was rebuilt and the best reliefs of Alexander in Egypt, carved on its outer walls, show him offering to Amun-Min. Egypt was now truly part of a much wider Mediterranean world of culture and religion, and could no longer hide within the sheltering cliffs of the Nile Valley.

From Egypt Alexander moved into Asia where, in an extraordinary series of campaigns, he overcame first Babylon and then Susa and Persepolis. Within just a few years he had extended his empire all the way to the Indus River. Alexander died of fever in Babylon in 323 BC and was succeeded by his half-witted half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. Philip left a relief on the outside wall of the granite central shrine at Karnak, of the priests of Amun carrying the sacred barque of the god on their shoulders. He was murdered in 317. Alexander's posthumous son by his Persian wife Roxane, who became Alexander IV, was similarly despatched, together with his mother, in 311 BC by Cassander, now General of Europe. Although he was dead, Alexander IV is listed as nominally ruling from 317 to 305 BC, but it was Ptolemy son of Lagus who was the de facto king.

Persian Period and Ancient Egyptian History

The Second Persian Period
When Egypt fell to the Persians in 343 BC, the reign of Nectanebo II, the last Egyptian pharaoh, came to an end; he was also the last Egyptian to rule Egypt for 2300 years until General Neguib and the 1952 Revolution. The Persian reaction, according to later Greek accounts which are obviously biased, was severe. Cities were slighted, temple treasuries robbed, sacred animals such as the Apis, Mnevis and Buchis bulls were slain, and the people enslaved with taxes. Once more a Persian satrap (this time Pherdates) ruled for an absentee king in Susa.

The greywacke statue of Nectanebo II
Whereas the first Persian dynasty had lasted from 525 until 404 BC, this time the occupation was for only a decade. Artaxerxes III was poisoned in Persia in 338 and his young successor, Arses, survived for only two years, to be murdered and succeeded by Darius III. There is little evidence of this period of Persian hegemony in Egypt. Artaxerxes struck Athenian-style silver tetradrachms at Memphis with an inscription in demotic (a cursive and difficult-to-read script derived from hieroglyphs) giving his name, and only two specimens survive. Mazaeus, who was satrap under Darius III, struck similar copies of Athenian tetradrachms but with his own name on them in Aramaic. He it was who wisely opened the gates of Egypt to Alexander the Great in 323 bc, saving the country and his own skin, and was transferred to high office in Babylon.

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Ancient Egyptian Dynasties 28/29/30/31

Dynasty 28
404-399 BC
  • Amyrtaeus : 404-399 BC
Dynasty 29
399-380 BC
  • Nefaarud I (Nepherites I) - Baenre Merynetjeru : 399-393 BC
  • Hakor (Achoris) - Maatibre : 393-380 BC
Dynasty 30
380-343 BC
  • Nakhtnebef (Nectanebo I) - Kheperkare : 380-362 BC
  • Djedhor (Teos) - Irmaatenre : 362-360 BC
  • Nakhthorheb (Nectanebo II) - Snedjemibre - Setepeninhur : 360-343 BC

Dynasty 31 
(Second Persian Period) 
343-332 BC
  • Artaxerxes III : 343-338 BC
  • Darius III : 336-332 BC
  • Arses : 338-336 BC
With the death of Darius II in 405, Amyrtaeus Prince of Sais, who had been fighting a guerrilla action against the Persians for at least six years, declared himself king. Somehow he managed to assert his authority as far south as the old Egyptian border at Aswan, but he is otherwise virtually unknown and was the sole king of the 28th Dynasty. In the next dynasty, founded by Nepherites I (Nefaarud I), the northern Delta capital moved from Sais to the more centrally placed Mendes, indicating perhaps a stronger royal line arising from that city and the ousting of the previous one.

To strengthen his claim and position, Nepherites I, like many before him, cast backwards to underline his legitimacy, associating himself with the Saite Renaissance policies. Certainly there is far more evidence of building work and inscriptions in Egypt during his reign, largely located in the northern sphere, than during those of his immediate predecessors. He also maintained the cult of the sacred Apis bull at Memphis and is recorded in a Serapeum inscription. As the capital was at Mendes the presumption was that Nepherites was buried there, but no royal tombs had been found despite intensive excavations in the 1980s. The tomb was eventually found late in 1995. Previously only four of his glazed composition ushabtis were known, since then more than a dozen examples, often only the upper half, have appeared in the art market, indicative of the robbing of the site that has taken place.

Granodiorite fragmentary statue torsi of the pharaoh Hakor, circa 393-381 BC, Now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
For about a year after the death of Nepherites (in 393) there was confusion, his son and a usurper, Psammuthis, struggling for power. Both were overcome by an unrelated man, Aehoris (Hakor) who disregarded their year and dated the start of his own reign from the death of Nepherites. Aehoris too was concerned to present legitimate continuity and associated himself with Nepherites in such a blatant way on his monuments, naming his son after him into the bargain, that he must have been trying to consolidate a relationship that had no factual basis. Nevertheless, Aehoris' 14-year reign stands out amongst those of the later kings as one in which an enormous amount of building and refurbishing took place. Aehoris took more than a hand in Near Eastern politics as well.

 The Greeks, initially the Spartans and then the Athenians, were the main protagonists in the struggles against Persia,- by comparison, Egypt was merely a flea bite in the Persian arm. Aehoris concluded a treaty with Athens in 389, but it lasted only three years in the face of internal squabbling amongst the Greeks which was settled by the Persian king Artaxerxes II's edict of 386, giving him the cities of Asia Minor and Cyprus and declaring the other Greek cities (with a few exceptions) autonomous, so long as they did not make war on him. The Greeks had been quietened and Egypt was isolated, thus attracting the attentions of Persia. Aehoris repulsed several attacks between 385 and 383, largely with the use of renegade Greeks in the now considerably strengthened Egyptian navy, and Persia turned away and moved against Cyprus.

Aehoris died in 380 but his son did not succeed him, being ousted by Nectanebo I (Nakhtnebef) of Sebennytos who founded the 30th Dynasty. A combined Persian and Greek force entered Egypt from the western (Mendes) side of the Delta, bypassing the strongly fortified and usual access through the eastern Delta fortress of Pelusium. Fortunately for Nectanebo, after being defeated, the strange allies delayed in their march on Memphis, distrusting each other, which gave him time to regroup, launch a successful counter-attack and fling them out of Egypt. Local conditions played a big part in his success - the inundation gave the Egyptians the advantage in a flooded landscape they knew well.

Nectanebo I achieved much in his stable 18-year reign, restoring dilapidated temples throughout the land and, in particular, erecting the small kiosk on the sacred island of Philae that was to blossom into one of the most sacred and delightful sites of later Egypt. He was succeeded by his son, Teos (Djedhor) (by his wife Udjashu), who immediately began to move against Persia, supported by Greek mercenaries, and hoping to gain Syria. Because of heavy tax impositions to pay for the mercenaries, Teos was unpopular in Egypt. In his absence Teos' son Tjahepimu declared his own son (i.e. Teos' grandson) king as Nectanebo II (Nakhthoreb) and Teos fled to sanctuary at Susa after a short two-year reign.

The first eight years of Nectanebo II's reign were protected from Persian aggression by that country's own dynastic squabbles and consequent problems. By 350 BC, however, the new Persian ruler Artaxerxes III had sufficiently re-established authority over most of the empire to contemplate attacking Egypt - but the expedition failed. Word of this spread and soon Greek and Levantine cities were once more militarily challenging the Persian might, at first with a degree of success.

Nectanebo II's reign is characterized by a definite return to the old values and stability brought by the gods. Temples were built or refurbished and the king was presented as the pious one under the gods' protection. This is well exemplified in a superb large stone statue in the Metropolitan Museum, New York of Horus the falcon, wearing the Double Crown. Between its legs it has a diminutive figure of Nectanebo wearing the nemes headdress and carrying a curved harpesh and a small shrine. Not only is it a striking statue, it is also an icon reflecting the age-old clash between Horus (i.e. good, the king and Egypt) and Seth (evil and Persia). Not least, it is also a clever pun or rebus since it symbolizes the king's name as 'Strong [the harpesh is Horus of Behbeit [the shrine]', the latter being a temple, now much ruined, dedicated to the goddess Isis in that Delta city.

Greek mercenaries fought for both Egypt and Persia and it was with some 20,000 Greeks, forming about one-fifth of his army, that Nectanebo II stood at Pelusium, the eastern Delta fortress entrance to Egypt, in 343 BC against the latest Persian advance. Greek generalship on the Persian side outflanked the Egyptians,- Pelusium fell, followed by other Delta strongpoints, and Memphis itself soon afterwards, forcing Nectanebo to take refuge in Nubia. Persian rule was established in Egypt once more.

What became of Nectanebo II is unknown. A splendid large and complete faience ushabti figure of the king (unprovenanced, acquired by Turin Museum in the 19th century), plus ten other known fragments, are all that remains and point to preparations being made for his royal What became of Nectanebo II is unknown. A splendid large and complete faience ushabti figure of the king (unprovenanced, acquired by Turin Museum in the 19th century), plus ten other known fragments, are all that remains and point to preparations being made for his royal

burial, presumably at Sais. His tomb was probably destroyed under the Ptolemies. In the British Museum is a huge black granite sarcophagus, finely carved all over with texts and scenes from the Book of What is in the Underworld, inscribed for Nectanebo II. It was never used and was found in Alexandria where, having had holes cut through its lower walls into the interior, it was later employed as a bath, often called 'Alexander's bath'. Curiously, in medieval legend (recounted in the 'Alexander Romance'), Nectanebo is said to have fled to the Macedonian court (i.e. to the anti-Persian faction). There he was recognized as a great Egyptian magician, attracted the attentions of the Macedonian king's (Philip II's) wife Olympias and became the father - unbeknown to Philip II - of Alexander the Great, thus continuing in due course the pharaoh-bred line legend for Alexander.

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Ancient Egyptian 27th Dynasty - Persian Period

Dynasty 27
(First Persian Period)
525-404 BC
  • Cambyses II (Mesutire) : 525-522 BC
  • Darius I (Setutre) : 521-486 BC
  • Darius II : 423-405 BC
  • Artaxerxes II : 405-359 BC
  • Xerxes : 485-465 BC
  • Artaxerxes I : 465-424 BC
The Persian conquest of Egypt in 525 BC was not so traumatic an occurrence as the biased contemporary accounts would have us believe. The Saite dynasty had collapsed, Psammetichus III had been captured and the Achaemenid Persians, led by Cambyses II, simply took charge of the country. At the beginning of Book 3 of his Histories, Herodotus, writing only three-quarters of a century after the event, tells three curious stories as to why Cambyses invaded Egypt: all concern women.

Persian king Cyrus
One was the king's request for an Egyptian princess for a wife (i.e. in reality, a concubine), and his anger when he realized he had been fobbed off with a second-rank lady. The second saw Cambyses as the Persian king Cyrus' bastard son by Nitetis (daughter of the Saite king Apries), thus making Cambyses half Egyptian anyway. The third tale concerns a promise Cambyses, aged ten, made to his mother (this time Cassandane) that he would 'turn Egypt upside-down' to avenge a slight paid her. Herodotus expresses doubt concerning all three stories, but they do reflect the later Greek propaganda that was to colour views of the Persian dynasty. More to the point, and more accurately, Herodotus notes how the Persians easily entered Egypt across the desert, having been advised by the defecting mercenary general, Phanes of Halicarnassus (Herodotus' own home city), to employ the bedouin as guides.

The Egyptian revenge on Phanes for betrayal was dire: as the two armies confronted each other, his sons, who had been left behind in Egypt, were brought out in front of the Egyptian army, where they could be seen by their father, and their throats were slit over a large bowl. When they had all been killed, Herodotus tells us, water and wine were added to the ghastly contents of the bowl and drunk by every man in the mercenary force.

The Egyptians were routed in the subsequent battle and fled back to Memphis. Herodotus gives at length the tribulations suffered by the captive Psammetichus and his family, as well as the outrages perpetrated by Cambyses. Not least among them were the desecration and deliberate burning of the embalmed body of Amasis, ripped from its tomb at Sais, and the stabbing by Cambyses of the sacred Apis bull of Memphis, leading to its subsequent death. The high propaganda level of such stories may be judged from an inscription in the Serapeum (the burial place of the Apis bulls at Memphis/Saqqara) recording the burial of a bull with full honours in Cambyses' sixth (Persian) year, 523 BC.

After his initial military success in Egypt, Cambyses had little further luck. Legend tells of his losing an entire army in the desert on its way to Siwa Oasis, and alleged traces of the 'lost army' are still reported from time to time in the press.

Although Cambyses had his name written in a cartouche, he remained a Persian and was buried at Takht-i-Rustam, near Persepolis. Only the ruined platform of his tomb survives. Cambyses and the rest of the Persian dynasty ruled Egypt from Susa like absentee landlords, leaving a satrap in control.

Outline tracing of the figure representing Darius in the Behistun Inscription

Darius I succeeded Cambyses in 522 and took a closer interest in the internal affairs and administration of Egypt. He had one satrap (Aryandes) executed for overstepping his office, built a temple at Khargah Oasis and repaired others as far apart as Busiris in the Delta and at el-Kab just north of Aswan. Not least, he recorded on a large stele now in Cairo his completion of the canal from the eastern Delta at Pelusium to the Red Sea, begun by Necho II.

The 35-year reign of Darius I - who, like Cambyses, wrote his name in a cartouche - was one of essential prosperity for Egypt, despite her now being subject to many outside influences and the politics of the Mediterranean world. In 490 the Greeks had, against all odds, defeated the Persian army at the battle of Marathon. Darius' attentions were elsewhere and, in 486, the Egyptians took the opportunity to revolt. Before Darius could suppress the insurgents he died and was buried in a great rock-carved tomb in the cliffs at Naqsh-i-Rustam at Persepolis.

The revolt was put down with great severity by the next Persian king, Xerxes, who himself had to contend with the Greeks again, but this time at sea, at Salamis in 480 BC. The cruelty of the Persian satrap Achaemenes (Xerxes' son) only served to rouse the Egyptians to revolt once more when Xerxes was assassinated. His successor, Artaxerxes I, thus found himself opposed by the princes Inaros of Heliopolis (son of Psammetichus III) and Amyrtaeus of Sais. The former became a legendary 'crusader' in later folklore, recorded in several damaged demotic papyri; the latter's grandson was to be the sole king of the 28th Dynasty. Despite initial successes with the aid of Greek allies, the Egyptians were defeated and Inaros executed in 454 BC. Relative tranquillity then ensued for the next 30 years and the reign of Artaxerxes I, 465-424, left little mark in Egypt.

Revolt broke out again with the advent of Darius II (423-405 BC), although he did endeavour to woo the nationalistic elements by selected building works. The trouble spots were still concentrated round the Delta families, Sais being a particular centre (much as el-Kab had been centuries before, in the Second Intermediate Period). The Egyptians relied heavily on Greek mercenaries and, curiously, centuries later the Athenians were to recognize Sais as being particularly associated with Athene (an Athene of Sais even appeared on the nome coinage in Roman times). The Egyptians were able to take advantage of the murderous internal family problems of the Achaemenid royal house and maintain a quasi-independence during the reigns of the last two Persian kings, Darius II and Artaxerxes II (405-359 BC).

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April 23, 2012

Renewed prosperity in Ancient Egypt - 26th Dynasty

Renewed prosperity in Egypt
Psammetichus I's reign of over half a century saw a return to stability and the old religious values. Outside influences, both artistic and trade, came into the country as never before but, despite this, there was a great renaissance in indigenous traditions, with many art forms looking back to Middle and Old Kingdom antecedents. It is at times difficult to be absolutely sure whether a statue or relief is a Saite revival piece or something much older. The reliefs in Mentuemhet's tomb at Thebes (TT 34) are prime examples of this.

Renewed prosperity in Egypt
Status and trade also improved upon a fuller entry into the economy of the ancient Mediterranean. In 653 BC, Psammetichus, profiting from Assyria's internal problems, threw off the foreign yoke, allowing Egypt once more to be a dominant power in the Near East. The gradual Assyrian collapse was, however, leaving a dangerous power vacuum in the area. Like vultures, other nations hovered over the death throes - the Babylonians under Nabopolassar, the Medes and the Scythians particularly. Nabopolassar created havoc in 629-627 BC, advancing as far as southern Palestine where he was repulsed at Ashdod on the coast by the Egyptians. Psammetichus, realizing the potential danger for Egypt of an Assyrian collapse, actually assisted Assyria against the Babylonians in 616 BC, but did not have sufficient forces to sway the day for them. A joint Scythian and Persian army attacked Assyria a year later, culminating in the fall of its capital Nineveh in 612 BC and the extinction of the royal line.

Nekau II, better known as Necho, continued the foreign involvements of his father Psammetichus, when he came to the throne in 610 BC. Palestine once more became an Egyptian possession and much of the history of Egypt's involvement in the area is enshrined in the Biblical account in the second Book of Kings. It was now, in the late 7th century, that Greece was expanding her trading contacts and Necho took the opportunity of recruiting displaced Ionian Greeks to form an Egyptian navy. This was hitherto unheard of in Egypt because the Egyptians had an inherent distaste for and fear of the sea. Necho's vision was a wide one - he pre-empted the Suez Canal by almost 2500 years when he had a navigable canal dug through the Wadi Tumilat between the Pelusiac branch of the Nile (where the great frontier fortress of Pelusium was located) and the Red Sea. A great entrepot city, Per-Temu-Tjeku - modern Tell el-Mashkuta west of Ismailia - was built on the canal and its fortunes, like the later Suez, were linked to the prosperity and use of the new waterway.

There is little material evidence of Necho's son, Psammetichus II (Psamtik II), who reigned for only six years. He was involved with a foray into Nubia in 592, marching as far south as the Third Cataract. A famous graffito scratched in Greek on the left leg of the colossal seated statue of Ramses II, on the south side of the entrance to the temple of Abu Simbel, records that 'When King Psammetichus came to Elephantine, this was written by those who sailed with Psammetichus the son of Theocles, and they came beyond Kerkis as far as the river permits. Those who spoke foreign tongues [i.e. Greeks and Carians who also scratched their names on the monument] were led by Potasimto, the Egyptians by Amasis.' These two last-named leaders were high military commanders who are known from other sources in the reign. An unexplained outcome of this expedition was the deliberate slighting of monuments of the 25th Dynasty Kushite kings and also of Psammetichus II's father, Necho.

An excursion - it was hardly a campaign - in the following year, 591, into southern Palestine in support of Zedekiah, the Babylonian puppet king of Jerusalem, encouraged a Judaean revolt against Babylonian rule for which Jerusalem paid a heavy price - culminating in a two-year siege by Nebuchadnezzar II. The city fell in 587. This was during the period of the Biblical 37-year Babylonian Exile.

Wahibre, better known as Apries, succeeded his father in February 589 and continued his policy of intervention in Palestinian affairs. His reign, however, was fraught with military problems at home as well as abroad. A mutiny by the strategically important Aswan garrison was contained, but when Apries' army - sent to aid Libya against Dorian Greek invaders - was heavily mauled by the aggressors, civil war broke out upon the survivors' return, pitching the indigenous Egyptian army against foreign mercenaries. As was to happen so often under the Roman empire, the army turned to a victorious general, in this case a veteran of the Nubian campaigns, Amasis (Ahmose II), and when the two sides met in 570 Apries was killed. The victor nevertheless observed the proper rituals and had the body of Apries buried at Sais, probably the royal cemetery for the 26th Dynasty.

The Delta site of Sais (modern Sa el-Hagar) is heavily waterlogged and has never been properly investigated. Although it is thought to be the royal burial ground, it is strange that little evidence remains of the royal burials themselves apart from a few ushabtis, most of whose known provenances are other than Sais. The ten ushabtis in the name of Psammetichus are difficult to assign specifically to one or other king of that name. There is also a splendid ushabti (p. 194) and a heart scarab of Necho II, three ushabtis of Apries and six of Amasis.

The Greek historian Herodotus is one of the best sources for details of this period; he visited Egypt in about 450 BC, only a century after the events of the later 26th Dynasty. Amasis attempted to restrict the internal racial conflicts by granting specific trading rights and privileges to foreigners settled at Naukratis in the Delta, making it a free zone rather like Delos was in the Greek world. Petrie's excavations there in the late 19th century produced interesting evidence of the city's cosmopolitan nature and its temples to 'alien' deities. Mediterranean trade was a keynote of the reign of Amasis; links were forged with many other nations, especially the Greeks. Amasis even underwrote the rebuilding of the great oracular sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi after a disastrous fire destroyed it in 548 BC.

Although the essential focus of the dynasty was its seat at Sais, the family hold over Thebes was maintained through most of the dynasty by a great lady, the princess Ankhnesneferibre, daughter of Psammetichus II by Queen Takhut. She had been adopted by the Divine Adoratrice Nitocris (who was closely associated in the administration with Mentuemhet) and succeeded her in 584 BC. She held the office for almost 60 years until the Persian Conquest in 525 BC. Her sarcophagus (left) was reused in the Ptolemaic period by a royal scribe, Amenhotep, who had the feminine suffixes altered to masculine ones.

Assyrian followed by Babylonian expansion and military activity had in turn threatened and subdued Egypt. Now there was a new contender on the scene, Persia. She had waged war against the Greeks; Egypt was no match for her. Within a year of succeeding to the Egyptian throne, Psammetichus III (Psamtik III) had to face the Persian army in 525 BC at Pelusium, the eastern gateway into Egypt. The inexperienced king eventually fled, defeated, to Memphis, only to be captured and transported to Susa, the Persian capital.

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Ancient Assyria and Egyptian 25th Dynasty

The Threat from Assyria
The history of the period is very much tied in with the rise and expansion of that other great Near Eastern power, Assyria. Whilst Shabaka had kept the Assyrian king Sargon II at bay, thanks largely to that ruler's problems in other areas such as Urartu (Armenia), Shebitku took a different stance and sided with a Palestinian/Phoenician revolt against the Assyrian overlords. The Assyrian king was now Sennacherib, who brooked no such interference, and the Levantine kings were soon brought to heel. Many events of these campaigns, including the siege and capture of Lachish, are graphically represented in the reliefs from Sennacherib's south-west palace at Nineveh (now in the British Museum). In order to save Jerusalem, the Judaean king Hezekiah surrendered to Sennacherib (Byron's 'wolf') whose opinion of Hezekiah's ally Egypt was to liken it to 'a broken reed'.

Granite sphinx of Taharqa from Kawa in Sudan

A brief respite followed for Egypt. Taharqa succeeded his brother Shebitku as pharaoh in 690 BC, and Sennacherib was assassinated in Nineveh in 681 BC, bringing his son, Esarhaddon, to the throne. Taharqa's name is the one most associated with the Kushite dynasty, largely because of his widespread building activities, the best known of which is the splendid re-erected column in the First Court of the temple of Amun at Karnak, just one of a series that formed a great portico kiosk. Not only did Taharqa build throughout Egypt, he was also extremely active in Nubia. At Kawa he virtually resurrected the abandoned site founded under Amenhotep III and dedicated to Amun. A vast complex was inaugurated there that took on important ritual connotations and was second only to the Gebel Barkal complex.

Taharqa's reign was one of confrontations with the Assyrians, the pendulum swinging first one way, then the other. At Ashkelon on the Egyptian/Palestinian border, Esarhaddon was repulsed in 673 by the combined forccs of the rebellious city and Egypt. In 671, however, the result went the other way. Esarhaddon then struck deep into Egypt, captured Memphis, the heir apparent and most of the royal family except Taharqa, who escaped south to Thebes. Another uprising in 669 saw Esarhaddon returning to Egypt, but he died on the road and was succeeded by his son, Ashurbanipal, who withdrew shortly thereafter. That was the signal for a renewed uprising, but Assyria exacted swift vengeance on the insurgents in the north of Egypt, executing all the local nobility save one, the future Necho I of the 26th Dynasty. Taharqa lost Memphis again, and then fled south and on past Thebes to his remote capital at Napata. Mentuemhet, Mayor of Thebes, was left to surrender to the Assyrian forces.

Assyria Map
Taharqa had not shared power with his predecessor Shabaka, but in 665 BC he recognized his cousin, Tanutamun, as his heir and co-regent, and died the next year. Tanutamun's vision was one of the resurgence of Nubian and Egyptian grandeur. The gods were with him, he must have thought, as he swept north, taking Aswan and Thebes and then Memphis itself. The story is inscribed on a stele from Gebel Barkal, narrating how, like Tuthmosis IV before him (p. 114), Tanutamun had a dream of greatness, was crowned at Napata and then realized the dream. The run of good fortune, however, was short-lived. Ashurbanipal reacted swiftly, Memphis fell yet again, and Tanutamun fled south. This time, however, the inconceivable happened: Thebes, jewel of Amun and the ancient world, was sacked and its huge temple treasury laid waste. Its fall was an object lesson to the whole of the ancient Near East, to be quoted for centuries by such as the Old Testament prophet Nahum when he mocked Nineveh's fall in 612 BC. The Assyrians nominally held Egypt but Tanutamun was secure in Napata: Ashurbanipal would not venture beyond the boundary at Aswan. Tanutamun's death in 656 BC extinguished the century-old Nubian domination of its old foe Egypt.

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Nubian Conquest and Ancient Egyptian 25th Dynasty

The Nubian conquest
With the breakdown of Egyptian sovereignty in Egypt the Nubian kings began to look north. They viewed their incursions into Egypt not so much as an invasion but as a restoration of the old status quo and supremacy of Amun. Hence, when Piankhi (Piyi) moved north against the coalition of four Egyptian kings in Year 21 of his Nubian reign, about 727 BC, he could take the view that these kings had acted like naughty children who needed to be brought into line. After their defeat he treated them with leniency, confirming them as governors, although one, Tefnakht, had fled further north into the Delta where he attempted to regroup and at the same time sent an eloquent address to Piankhi, full of the old rhetoric, seeking a truce.

Sphinx of Shepenwepet II, representative of the Kushite royalty. Source: Wildung, Dietrich. Sudan: Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile

A remarkably full account of these events is recorded on a large pink granite block found in 1862 in the temple of Amun at Gebel Barkal (now in Cairo). This so-called 'Victory Stele' is obviously the 'home' copy of an inscription that must have been repeated in other major northern sites such as Memphis, still the secular capital, and Thebes itself. Complete details of the campaign are given, from Piankhi's decision to march north and take charge himself (under the guidance of Amun), down to the discussions about how best to invest the fortified city of Memphis. On the way, passing through Amun's Thebes, Piankhi celebrated the Festival of Opet - during which the figure of Amun was carried from Karnak to the Luxor temple - presumably in front of the temple reliefs carved 600 years earlier under Tutankhamun.

Piankhi had legitimized his position in the Nubian succession by marrying the daughter of a king named Alara, the seventh king of Napata. At Thebes, Piankhi took a firm hold on the priesthood of Amun by having the Divine Adoratrice of Amun, Shepenwepet I, 'adopt' as her successor his sister Amenirdis I. The maintenance of the cult of Amun at both Karnak and Gebel Barkal was an important part of the building programme of the successive Kushite kings, to the extent that the latter became a huge southern replica of the former.

Although, curiously, it appears that Piankhi preferred to rule from Napata in the south, since he returned there, he invested himself with the resonant old coronation names of the New Kingdom pharaohs Tuthmosis III and Ramses II. When he died c. 716 BC Piankhi was buried at el-Kurru, just to the north of Gebel Barkal, in the pyramid field that was to include the burials of several of the kings of the 25th Dynasty, as well as other relatives such as two of Piankhi's sisters. The pyramid tombs adopted by the Kushites were very different from their northern antecedents - they were much smaller and their angle of inclination was severely sharper than the true pyramid of 52° 51'.

The Kushite kings wholeheartedly embraced almost all the old Egyptian burial customs - embalming, the provision of splendid carved stone ushabtis and other funerary accoutrements. They betrayed their Nubian origins, however, in the practice of laying the royal body on a bed in the tomb and, nearby, burying chariot horses standing in teams of four (for a quadriga) to accompany their master.

Piankhi was succeeded by his brother Shabaka (here the Nubian succession was at variance with Egyptian custom), who continued the revival of old Egyptian traditions, delving into whatever temple records could be found, or inventing them if necessary. An important relic of this is the 'Shabaka Stone', a slab of basalt 4Vi ft (1.37 m) long, now in the British Museum. Its surface is much abraded and deeply scored from having been used at a later date as a millstone. The text on it states that it is a copy taken from an ancient 'worm-eaten' papyrus discovered at Memphis and recounting the Memphite theology of the creator gods.

The overall control exerted by Shabaka (that is, south of the 24th Dynasty territory in the northern Delta) is indicated by the vast array of building work undertaken in his reign, mainly at Thebes on both east and west banks of the Nile and largely in relation to the Amun cult, but also at other major religious cult centres such as Memphis (Ptah), Abydos (Osiris), Dendera (Hathor), Esna (Khnum) and Edfu (Horus).

After a 14-year reign Shabaka died and, like his brother Piankhi, was buried in a steep-sided pyramid at el-Kurru. He was succeeded, each in turn, by his nephews Shebitku and Taharqa (Piankhi's sons). The Nubian hold on Thebes was maintained through the female line when Shebitku married his aunt Amenirdis I (Piankhi and Shabaka's sister), the Divine Adoratrice of Amun. The office was to pass to their daughter, Shepenwepet II.

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Ancient Egyptian 25th Dynasty | Nubian - Kushite

Dynasty 25
(Nubian/Kushite) 
747-656 BC
  • Piankhi (Piyi) - Menkheperre : 747-716 BC
  • Shabaka : Neferkare
  • Shebitku (Djedkare) : 702-690 BC
  • Taharqa (Nefertemkhure) : 690-664 BC
  • Tanutamun (Bakare) : 664-656 BC

Donation stela of Shabaka, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Since the days of Ramses II in the 19th Dynasty, Nubia - the land of Kush south of Aswan - had gone its own way, eventually founding a kingdom, Napata, that was independent at last from its powerful northern neighbour. During the Egyptian presence of the later New Kingdom the cult of Amun had taken a firm hold in Nubia, its major cult centre located at the great rock of Gebel Barkal. Here a major temple was built to the Theban god; the priests engaged in his cult, like their northern counterparts at Thebes, gradually increased their own influence alongside that of the deity until they similarly usurped the kingship. A dynastic succession seems to have been established as early as the late 10th century BC with the use of the traditional pharaonic titles and cartouches.

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Ancient Egyptian 24th Dynasty

The 24th Dynasty
The Nubian influence had indeed been growing in southern Egypt, extending as far north as Thebes. Tefnakht, the king of Sais in the Delta, recognized this and attempted to stem the invasion by organizing a coalition of northern kings that included Osorkon IV (Tanis), Peftjauabastet (Herakleopolis), Nimlot (Hermopolis) and Iuput (Leontopolis). Tefnakht became the first of the only two kings of the 24th Dynasty,- the other was Bakenrenef (better known in Greek myth as the Bocchoris who tangled with Herakles). Tefnakht probably reigned for about eight years and Bakenrenef for six. Initially, the confederation of northern rulers enjoyed a certain success, in that the Nubian king Piankhi (Piyi), allowed them to come south.

The Year 8 Athens stela of Tefnakht I
The two forces met at Herakleopolis and Tefnakht was compelled to retreat to Hermopolis where he, and subsequently the other kings of the coalition, surrendered to Piankhi, who was now personally leading his forces. All four 'kings' were then allowed to continue as governors of their respective cities, a policy which, centuries later, Alexander the Great was to find effective in his world conquest.

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Ancient Egyptian 23rd Dynasty 818-712 BC

The 23rd Dynasty
In Sheshonq III's Year 8 (c. 818 BC) he had to contend with a breakaway in the central Delta, at Leontopolis, where a prince named Pedibastet proclaimed a new dynasty, the 23rd, with himself as the founding king. Although members of the Tanite royal house held posts at Thebes, the priests of Amun were, as ever, politically very aware and at least two sons of the new dynasty joined them. Pedibastet reigned for 25 years and was succeeded by Sheshonq IV (793-787) and then Osorkon III (787-759).

Osorkon I
For 14 years, Osorkon III at Leontopolis, and Sheshonq III at Tanis, reigned concurrently, but in 773 Sheshonq III died leaving Osorkon III to continue his reign in the central Delta for another 15 years. Osorkon designated his son Takelot as ruler of Herakleopolis while he was also Chief Priest. Around 765 BC Takelot became coregent with his father, but his sole reign as Takelot III after the death of Osorkon six years later lasted only about two years. Meantime at Tanis an obscure king called Pami occupied the throne for six years (773-767) before being succeeded by his son, Sheshonq V, with his son, Osorkon IV, in turn becoming king and officially the last ruler of the 22nd Dynasty.

The coincidence of Dynasties 22 (Tanis) and 23 (Leontopolis) is extremely confusing, especially since not all the relationships between the many rulers, let alone their dates, are clear. At one point, a commander of Herakleopolis named Peftjauabastet married Takelot Ill's niece, who was also the daughter of Rudamon (Takelot's brother). Rudamon enjoyed a brief reign after Takelot, to be succeeded by Iuput, and there arose a situation where three men - Iuput (Leontopolis), Peftjauabastet (Herakleopolis) and Nimlot (Hermopolis) - were all simultaneously claiming to be 'kings'. They merely held sway over small areas of Egypt and it was the growing danger from Nubia that led them to band together for the common good, although in the end it availed them nothing .

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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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