, pub-5063766797865882, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Renewed prosperity in Ancient Egypt - 26th Dynasty ~ Ancient Egypt Facts

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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