September 22, 2013

The New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt

The New Kingdom
The New Kingdom which dates from about 1580 B.C. signaled the triumph of Egyptians arms over the whole of the then known world. It was a period of military power based not on defence but on conquest. It was also a period of great artistic achievement and of cultural activity in general. Thebes was still the capital and the priests of Amon were more influential than ever. Ahmose’s immediate successors, Tutmose I and Tut- mose II, devoted their reigns mainly to military expeditions and conquest. Queen Hatshepsut on the other hand was less war-like. She declared herself regent after removing her nephew Tutmose III and reigned alone for twenty two years, wearing a beard and male attire. Her reign, very quiet as far military activity was concerned, was characterised by frantic activity in the artistic sphere and in particular by the construction of the architectural master-piece constituted by the funerary complex at Deir-el-Bahari. At the death of this aunt Tutmose III regained the throne and had the name of the usurper erased from all her monuments.

The New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt
His 34 year reign turned out to be ont of the most splendid periods of Egyptian history. By means of seventeen military compaigns in Asia he defeated the Mitans conclusively. His victories at Megiddo, Kark- hemish and Kadesh are famous. Toward the end of his reign Tutmose III reached the fourth cataract so that Egypt stretched from Napata in Nubia, now Gebel Barkal, to the river Euphrates. In 1372 B.C. Amon-Ofis IV ascended the throne. He has gone down in history as the poet-king and also as the heretical or schismatic king. Frightened by the power of the priests of Amon who had succeeded in creating a state within a state he substituted the worship of Aton, the solar disc, for that of Amon. This new cult did not require the use of images so he closed the temples and dispersed the clergy. He also abandoned Thebes and founded a new capital Akhet-Aton, « the horizon of Aton », now called Tell el-Amarna. His final act was to change his own name from Amon-Ofis, which means « Amon is pleased », to Akhen-Aton, which means « this pleases Aton ».

The New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt
The religious change however did not survive him. The crown passed to the very young Tut-Ankh-Aton who under the influence of the beautiful Nefertiti, « the beautiful one who comes », wife-sister of Akhen- Aton, returned to Thebes after a short while, revived the cult of Amon and changed his own name to Tut- Ankh-Amon. This king who died mysteriously at the age of eighteen has passed into history because of the fascinating story of the discovery of his tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter. Egypt then fell into a state of anarchy and thence into the hands of military rulers: Horemheb, Ramses I, a professional soldier, Seti I who revived the policy of conquest to the east, and finally Ramses II, known as Ramses the Great, who engaged all his forces in order to defeat the armies of the Hittites. They were in fact stopped at Kadesh after an epic battle of doubtful outcome which had no real victors or vanquished. During his seventy seven year reign he enjoyed demonstrating his great power by building colossal monuments e.g. Abu Simbel, Karnak and Luxor. On his death he was succeeded by his son Mineptah. Internal anarchy together with the arrival towards the end of the second millenium B.C. of Indo- European peoples in Libya, Asia and the whole of the Mediterranean basin destroyed an already precarious equilibrium.

The New Kingdom of Ancient Egypt
The Third Interim Period started in 1085 B.C. with the advent of the XXIst dynasty when the capital, was at Tanis. The succeeding dynasty saw power first in the hands of a Libyan King and later in the hands of an Ethiopian king, the capital being moved to Nepatat in the Sudan. This was followed by the Saitian-Persian period. In 524 B.C. during the XVIIth dynasty the Persians under Cambyses conquered Egypt for the first time. In 332 B.C. the Egyptians called on Alexander the Great to help them and he was acclaimed as a Liberator. Declared « a son of Ra » by the oracle of Luxor he funded the new city of Alexandria (he was buried there in 323 B.C.) which rapidly became the cultural capital of the whole of the ancient world. His death marked the beginning of the Ptolemaic or lagidan dynasty which started the Helleni- sation of the country. During the two centuries preceding the birth of Christ, Egypt became progressively weaker compared with Rome of which it eventually became a colony. Finally at the death of Theodosius in 595 A.D. Egypt became a part of the Eastern Empire.

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