Friday, January 25, 2013

Dynasties Of Egypt Part IV: New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period

The New Kingdom, sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt. 

The New Kingdom (1570–1070 BC) followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period. It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the zenith of its power.

Possibly as a result of the foreign rule of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom saw Egypt attempt to create a buffer between the Levant and Egypt, and attained its greatest territorial extent. It expanded far south into Nubia and held wide territories in the Near East. Egyptian armies fought Hittite armies for control of modern-day Syria.

The Eighteenth Dynasty contained some of Egypt's most famous pharaohs including Ahmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Amunhotep III, Akhenaten and Tutankhamun.

The founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, Ahmose I (reign 1550-1525 BC) had a turbulent childhood. At the age of seven, his father Seqenenre Tao II was killed, probably while putting down members of the Asiatic tribe known as Hyskos, who were rebelling against the Thebean Royal House in Lower Egypt. At the age of ten, he saw his brother Kamose die of unknown causes after reigning for only three years. 

Despite these challenges, Ahmose I managed to take and hold power, laying the foundations for the New Kingdom by completing the conquest and expulsion of the Hyskos from the delta region, restoring Theban rule over the whole of Egypt and successfully reasserting Egyptian power in its formerly subject territories of Nubia and Canaan. Ahmose I then turned his focus to reorganizing the administration of the country, reopening quarries, mines and trade routes and ordering massive construction projects of a type that had not been undertaken since the time of the Middle Kingdom. This building program under Ahmose I culminated in the construction of the last pyramid built by native Egyptian rulers.

Though his name is not as well know as his successors, it was Ahmose I who set the nation on a course, continued by Amunhotep I (probable reign 1526–1506 BC) and Thutmose I (probable reign 1506–1493 BC), under which Egyptian power reached its zenith. 

The daughter of Thutmose I and consort of his successor Thutmose II, Queen Hatshepsut (reign 1479–1458 BC) was one of the most successful of all pharaohs. Best remembered for holding power longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty, Queen Hatshepsut strengthened Egypt by expanding external trade and sending a commercial expedition to the land of Punt. 

Thutmose III ("the Napoleon of Egypt": reign 1479–1425 BC) expanded Egypt's army and wielded it with great success to consolidate the empire at the peak of Egypt's power and wealth during the reign of his successors Amunhotep II (reign 1427–1401 BC or 1427–1397 BC), Thutmose IV (reign 1401 – 1391 BC or 1397 – 1388 BC) and Amunhotep III (reign 1391–1353 or 1388–1351 BC).

A glimpse at Eighteenth Dynasty power and wealth is possible by examining the headgear and jewelry of Tiye, the first consort and Great Royal Wife of the child Pharaoh Amunhotep III. 

Matriarch of the Amarna family from which many members of the royal family of Ancient Egypt were born, one of Queen Tiye's sons Amunhotep IV, who changed his name to Akhenaten, became one of the Eighteenth Dynasty pharaohs, as did her grandson Tutankhamun ("King Tut") whose father was Akhenaten and whose mother was another of Tiye's daughters (Henuttaneb, Nebetiah, Iset, Baketaten, or Sitamun, who was also a ceremonial wife of her father, and Tiye's husband, Amunhotep III). 

Amunhotep IV changed his name to Akhenaten (reign 1353 BC – 1336 BC or 1351–1334 BC) in honor of the Aten. His exclusive worship of the Aten, which began during the fourth year of his reign, changed Egypt's religion from a polytheistic (worship of multiple dieties) religion to a henotheistic religion (worshipping a single god while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities).

Akhenaten is often misinterpreted as history's first practitioner of monotheism (the belief that only one God exists) and the precursor of Judeo-Christian monotheism. But Akhenaten did did not deny the existence of other gods.

Akhenaten's Great Royal Wife Nefertiti (c. 1370 BC – 1330 BC), played a prominent role in her husband's Aten worship, but is more famous today as the subject of the painted bust portrait, attributed to the sculptor Thutmose, one of the most reproduced works of ancient Egypt. 

Found in Thutmose's workshop, the bust exemplifies the realistic portrayals of the Amarna style of painting and sculpture oracticed during the Eighteenth Dynasty. Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly after Akhenaten's death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, taking the name Smenkhkare (this identification remains an hypothesis and is a matter of ongoing debate).

Akhenaten's and Nefertiti's religious fervor, which the priests found threatening, is cited as the reason why some of the art and building infrastructure created during Akhenaten's reign was defaced or destroyed in the period following his death and subsequent attempts were made to write him out of Egyptian history. Yet under his reign, during the 14th century BC, Egyptian art flourished in drama, literature and music and attained an unprecedented level of realism painting and sculpture that will forever be associated with his name. 

Akhenaten's and Nefertiti's son and successor, Tutankhamun (reign 1333–1324 BC) was nine years old when his father did and became pharaoh and reigned for approximately ten years.

In historical terms, Tutankhamun is significant for his rejection of the religious innovations introduced by Akhenaten and the fact that his tomb (small relative to his status, probably because he died unexpectedly was discovered by archaeologist Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings almost entirely intact, including the fabulous royal sarchophagus and thousands of objects, which have been exhibited around the world. 

Tutankhamun was one of the few kings worshiped as a god and honored with a cult-like following during his short lifetime. 

While the cause of the death of "King Tut" may never be known with certainty, the most scientific conclusion to date was made by a team of Egyptian scientists working with Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who concluded, ased on CT scans made in 2005, that Tutankhamun died of gangrene after breaking his leg. 

Towards the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty, the situation had changed radically. Helped by Akhenaten's apparent lack of interest in international affairs, the Hittites had gradually extended their influence into Syria and Palestine to become a major power in international politics—a power that both Seti I and his son Ramesses (or Ramses) II would need to deal with during the Nineteenth Dynasty.

Ramesses II ("the Great": reign 1279-1213 BC) sought to recover territories in the Levant that had been held by the Eighteenth Dynasty. His campaigns of reconquest culminated in the Battle of Kadesh, on the banks of the Orontes Reiver in Syria, where he led Egyptian armies against those of the Hittite king Muwatalli II and was caught in history's first recorded military ambush. Thanks to the arrival of the Ne'arin (Canaanite mercenaries who swore allegiance to Egypt), Ramesses II rallied his troops and turn the tide of battle against the Hittites. The outcome of the battle was undecided, both sides claiming victory, which ultimately resulted in a peace treaty between the two nations.

Ramesses II was famed for the huge number of children he sired by his various wives and concubines. The tomb he built for his sons, many of whom he outlived, in the Valley of the Kings has proven to be the largest funerary complex in Egypt.

His immediate successors continued military campaigns, though an increasingly troubled court [which at one point put a usurper (Amunmesse) on the throne] made it increasingly difficult for a pharaoh to effectively retain control without incident. 

The last "great" pharaoh from the New Kingdom is widely regarded to be Ramesses III (reign 1186–1155 BC), whose long tenure in the midst of the surrounding political chaos of the Greek Dark Ages, saw Egypt beset by foreign invaders (Lybians aot the west and seafaring pirates known as the Sea Peoples), which set the stage for increasing economic difficulties and internal strife that eventually caused the collapse of the Twentieth Dynasty. 

In eighth year of Ramesses III's reign, the Sea Peoples invaded Egypt by land and sea and were defeated in two great land and sea battles. He claimed that he incorporated them as subject peoples and settled them in Southern Canaan, although there is evidence that they forced their way into Canaan. Their presence in Canaan may have contributed to the formation of new states in this region such as Philistia after the collapse of the Egyptian Empire. He also fought invading Libyan tribesmen in two major campaigns in Egypt's Western Delta in his Year 6 and Year 11 respectively.

The cost of these battles gradually exhausted Egypt's treasury and contributed to the gradual decline of the Egyptian Empire in Asia. The first known labor strike in recorded history occurred during Year 29 of Ramesses III's reign, when the food rations for the Egypt's favoured and elite royal tomb-builders and artisans in the village of Deir el Medina could not be provisioned, and famine ensued. 

After Ramesses III's death, endless bickering between his successors Ramesses IV (reign 1155-1149 BC), Ramesses V (reign 1149–1145 BC) and three short-term successors Ramesses VI, Ramesses VII and Ramesses VIII (whose one-year reign ended 1129 BC) enabled the priesthood of Amun to expand its control over the temple lands and state finances at the expense of the Pharaoh. Egypt was also beset by droughts, below-normal flooding levels of the Nile, famine, civil unrest and official corruption. 

The power of the last pharaoh, Ramesses XI, became so weak in the south that the High Priests of Amun at Thebes became the effective defacto rulers of Upper Egypt, while a governor named Smendes I controlled Lower Egypt even before Ramesses XI's death. Smendes eventually founded the Twenty-First Dynasty at Tanis — a very important royal necropolis of the Third Intermediate Period, which contains the only known intact royal Pharaonic burials, all earlier and later tombs, including the tomb of Tutankhamun, having been entered during antiquity. 


The Third Intermediate Period usually refers to the time in Ancient Egypt from the death of Pharaoh Ramesses XI (reign 1107–1078/77 BC) during the Twentieth Dynasty to the foundation of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I in 664 BC, following the expulsion of the Nubian rulers of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty.

The Third Intermediate Period is characterized by the slow motion fracturing of Egyptian kingship. Even during Ramesses XI's day, the Twentieth Dynasty of Egypt was losing its grip on power in the city of Thebes, whose priests were becoming increasingly powerful. After Ramesses XI's death, his successor Smendes I ruled from the city of Tanis, and the High Priests of Amun at Thebes ruled the south of the country during the Twenty-First Dynasty. But this division may have been less significant than it seems to us today, since both priests and pharaohs came from the same family.

Egypt was reunited in the Twenty-Second Dynasty founded by Shoshenq I (who was probably the same as the Biblical Shishak) in 945 BC (or 943 BC). Descended from Meshwesh immigrants, originally from Libya, Shoshenq brought stability to the country that lasted well over over a century. But three pharaohs later, after the demise of Osorkon II (reign 872–837 BC), who joined an allied force that was defeated by Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC, Egypt was shattered and split into two states with Shoshenq III of the Twenty-Second Dynasty controlling Lower Egypt by 818 BC and Takelot II and his son Osorkon, the Crown Prince and High Priest of Amun (and future Osorkon III), ruled Middle and Upper Egypt during the Twenty-Third Dynasty. 

In Thebes, a civil war engulfed the city between the forces of Pedubast I, who had proclaimed himself Pharaoh, versus the existing Takelot/Osorkon line of succession. The conflict between these two factions was resolved in the 39th year of the reign of Shoshenq III when Osorkon III obliterated his enemies amd founded the Upper Egyptian Libyan Dynasty, ruled by Osorkon III, followed by Takelot III and Rudamun, the final pharaoh of the Twenty-Third Dynasty. But this kingdom quickly fragmented after Rudamun's death with the rise of local city states under petty kings such Peftjaubast of Herakleopolis, Nimlot of Hermopolis, and Ini at Thebes.

The Nubian kingdom to the south took full advantage of this division and political instability. Prior to Piye's Year 20 campaign into Egypt, the previous Nubian ruler – Kashta – had already extended his kingdom's influence over Thebes when he compelled Shepenupet, the serving Divine Adoratice of Amun and Takelot III's sister, to adopt his own daughter Amenirdis, to be her successor. 

Twenty years later, around 732 BC, his successor, Piye, commanded an army that marched north and defeated the combined might of several native Egyptian rulers: Peftjaubast, Osorkon IV of Tanis, Iuput II of Leontopolis and Tefnakht of Sais. Piye established the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty and appointed the defeated rulers as his provincial governors. He was succeeded first by his brother, Shabaka, and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa respectively.

The international prestige of Egypt had declined considerably by this time. The country's international allies had fallen firmly into the sphere of influence of Assyria and from about 700 BC the question became when, not if, there would be war between the two states. 

Despite Egypt's size and wealth, Assyria had a greater supply of timber, while Egypt had a chronic shortage, allowing Assyria to produce more charcoal needed for iron-smelting and thus giving Assyria a greater supply of iron weaponry. This disparity became critical during the Assyrian invasion of Egypt in 670 BC.

Consequently, Pharaoh Taharqa's reign and that of his successor, (his cousin) Tantamani (also called Tanutamun), were consumed by conflict with the Assyrians. 

In 664 BC the Assyrians dealt the final blow in its war with Egypt by sacking Thebes and Memphis. The dynasty ended with its rulers stuck in the relative backwater of the city of Napata.

War with Assyrian caused rule in Egypt to shift (from 664 BC, a full eight years prior to Tanutamun's death) to the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, which was made up of client kings established by the Assyrians. Psamtik I was the first to be recognized by them as the King of the whole of Egypt, and he brought increased stability to the country in a 54-year reign from the city of Sais.

Four successive Saite kings continued guiding Egypt into another period of unparalleled peace and prosperity during the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, from 610-526 BC. Unfortunately for the Saite kings, a new power was growing in the Near East – Persia. Pharaoh Psamtik III had succeeded his father Amasis II (Ahmose II) for only six months before he had to face the Persian Empire at Pelusium.

The Persians had already taken Babylon, and Egypt was no match. Psamtik III was defeated and briefly escaped to Memphis, before he was ultimately imprisoned and, later, executed at Susa, the capital of the Persian king Cambyses II, who now assumed the formal title of Pharaoh.

The historiography of the Third Intermediate Period is disputed for a variety of reasons, the first being the wisdom of using a single artificial term to cover one of the longest and more complicated periods of Egyptian history. Problems also exist about the basic chronology of events, which stem from the difficulties in dating, common to all of Egyptian chronology, and the lack of agreement in the dates of known events found in Biblical and Egyptian archaeology and early histories of Egypt that we should not be to quick to discount.

For Ancient Egypt, the transition from the Third Intermediate Period to the Late Period was the last flowering of native rulers and truly indigenous culture on Egyptian soil.


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