The End of Ancient Egypt’s Status as an Independent Nation

As recorded in his so-called Dream Stela, found at Gebel Barkal, Bakare Tanutamun’s first action after visiting Napata to ensure the acceptance of his assumption of the throne was to return northward and re-establish Kushite power successively in Thebes, Memphis, and Heliopolis. At Memphis he crushed the pro-Assyrian elements there: it was probably at this time that Nekau I of Sais lost his life, his son Psamtik-Nabushazzibanni escaping to Syria. The king then confronted the Delta princes, who at length came to Memphis and submitted to him.

Tanutamun’s reassertion of Kushite dominion was to be short-lived, as the Assyrian armies returned, drove out the king, and pursued him to Thebes. The city was then sacked and despoiled of much of its treasure: “with full hands” Ashur-banipal returned home to Nineveh. Nevertheless, once the Assyrians had retired northward, the hierarchy remained largely unchanged, with the Kushite high priest and God’s Wife remaining in post. The principal exception was that the office of Second Prophet, hitherto held by prince Nesishutefnut, was added to the portfolio of the Mayor and Fourth Prophet Montjuemhat. Thebes would remain loyal to Tanutamun for nearly a decade, during which time a number of monuments were decorated in his name, including the temple of Osiris-Ptah-Nebankh, begun by Taharqa to the east of the avenue between the Amun and Mut temenoi.

In the north, the enduring jigsaw of polities continued to provide the basis of government under the reimposed Assyrian dominion (cf. p. 167). Some affected royal style, including Nekau I’s son at Sais, who had now become Wahibre Psamtik (I), and probably the latest of the rulers at Tanis, perhaps Neferkare P[ … ]. However, over the next few years Psamtik began the process of recreating a unitary Egyptian state and shaking off the bonds of Assyrian overlordship. The way in which this was initiated and progressed is not altogether clear, but the process presumably benefited from Assyrian distractions elsewhere. Herodotus attributes Psamtik’s victory over eleven peers to the aid of Carian Greek mercenaries;⁷ the same may also have helped the king to beat off yet another attempt by Tanutamun to regain his Egyptian throne. There would subsequently be significant settlement by Carians in Egypt, with mercenaries from the Aegean forming a significant part of the Egyptian army throughout the Twenty-sixth Dynasty.

As the end of the first decade of Psamtik’s reign approached, it seems that the whole of Egypt north of the Thebaid was under the control of the Saite kings’s regime. The final reunification seems to have been achieved in Year 9, when Psamtik’s daughter, Neitiqerti (Greek: Nitokris), arrived in Thebes and was adopted by Amenirdis II, daughter of Taharqa and the adopted heir of the aged, but still reigning, God’s Wife Shepenwepet II. In the stela that records the event,⁹ Psamtik states:

I have given to him (Amun) my daughter to be God’s Wife … . Now, I have heard that a king’s daughter is there (of) the Horus Qakhau, the good god, [Taharqa], true of voice, whom he gave to his sister (Shepenwepet II) to be her eldest daughter and is there as God’s Adoratrix. I will not do what in fact should not be done and expel an heir from his seat … . I will give her (my daughter) to her (Taharqa’s daughter) to be her eldest daughter just as she (Taharqa’s daughter) was made over to the sister of her father.

Neitiqerti (I) was thus to serve only after the deaths of both Shepenwepet II and Amenirdis II—i.e., many years into the future. This was doubtless the result of negotiations that had led Tanutamun finally to give up his residual Egyptian claims. Similarly, Horkhebit, the son and successor of the Kushite high priest Horemakhet, apparently remained undisturbed.

The Kushite God’s Wife Shepenwepet II and her Saite “granddaughter” Neitiqerti are seen together with Psamtik I in a rock inscription in the Wadi Gasus in the Eastern Desert. Here, however, Neitiqerti is shown in the more prominent position, directly behind her father the king, with Shepenwepet following her and in the apparently subordinate role of “her mother”—albeit still retaining the title of God’s Wife and filiation from Piye. Amenirdis II is nowhere to be seen here, and it is unclear whether she ever became God’s Wife, either through premature demise or through Psamtik reneging on the ‘deal’ once any chance of substantive Kushite reaction had faded into the past. Much depends on the date at which Neitiqerti actually became God’s Wife: if it was as late as Year 26 of Psamtik I—on the basis of a reference within the autobiography of her Steward Ibi—she could not have directly followed Shepenwepet II unless the latter lived to be over one hundred, given that Shepenwepet’s first appearance in the record dates to c. 730. Amenirdis II would then thus almost certainly have officiated between Shepenwepet and Neitiqerti. However, the evidence for the Year 26 accession date is equivocal, and her succession could otherwise have been anywhere between Year 9 and Year 26. A year-date in the early teens would allow Shepenwepet II to die at an advanced, yet still credible, age, and be directly followed by Neitiqerti. In favor of this may be the fact that there is no sign of any burial place for Amenirdis II at Medinet Habu, where the tomb built directly west of that of Amenirdis I housed only the burials of Shepenwepet II, Neitiqerti, and the latter’s mother, Mehytenweskhet C.

If Amenirdis II did not become God’s Wife—and did not die prematurely—her fate is uncertain. It has been suggested variously that she might have married into the Theban nobility¹³ or returned to Kush—in the latter case either to be God’s Wife at Napata or to marry the king and became the mother of Ñsalsa, mother of Aspelta. It is also possible, however, that although passed over for the office of God’s Wife she remained in Egypt as an honored member of the college perhaps into the reign of Nekau II, the last representative of the vanished world of the Nubian pharaohs.

It is unknown how long Tanutamun ruled after his final loss of Egyptian dominion. His sister-wife Piankharty is depicted on her husband’s Dream Stela, but no children are definitely known, and Tanutamun’s successor, Atlanersa, appears to have been a son of Taharqa. Tanutamun himself was ultimately buried at el-Kurru—interestingly not at Nuri, where Taharqa had initiated a new royal necropolis—in tomb Ku16, which was to be almost the last royal tomb to be erected there. Like Shabaka’s sepulcher, it had a burial chamber adorned with paintings, in this case, however, sufficiently well preserved to identify the topics covered. The vignettes and texts essentially follow the age-old association of royal burials with solar matters, the entrance doorway being surmounted by painted apes adoring the sun god in his bark, a similar motif also appearing on the rear wall.

The line of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and its successors endured in their rule in Upper Nubia until the fourth century ad. They continued to contend with Egypt and her rulers, including having to resist an attack by Psamtik I’s grandson, Lower Nubia being at least intermittently in Egyptian hands through the seventh and sixth centuries. That area was, however, certainly in Nubian hands under Horsiyotef early in the fourth century, when he fought against “rebels” there, although king Nastaseñ records having to repulse a riverborne attack from the north later that century. Under the Ptolemies, at least northern Lower Nubia was Egyptian, but the shifting allegiances of the area—and in particular of the priesthood at Philae—is evidenced by the work of the Kushite king Arqamani (Ergamenes II) at the temples at Dakka and Philae, together with his successor Adkheramani’s stela at the latter site, as well as his construction of the chapel that formed the core of the later temple at Dabod. The Upper Egyptian revolt of Year 16 of Ptolemy IV through Year 19 of Ptolemy V may have provided a basis for a Meroitic reoccupation of Lower Nubia, and even provided military support for the rebel Egyptian king Ankhwennefer. On the other hand, Arqamani’s texts at Philae were later mutilated by Ptolemy V, and Egyptian occupation extended further southward under Ptolemy VI. The center of gravity of the Kushite state itself seems to have moved southward from Gebel Barkal to Meroë around the end of the fourth century, when the series of pyramids at Nuri comes to an end. On the other hand, the old center remained important; pyramids were built at Gebel Barkal itself into the beginning of the first century ad, and there was ongoing activity at the temples. However, it is at Meroë that the major pyramid fields are to be found for the remainder of Kushite history.

Under Roman rule, the Kushite monarchy was regarded as a client kingdom, although the Kushites were able to sack Aswan in 24 BC, provoking a Roman campaign that allegedly reached Gebel Barkal and led to a permanent border being re-established at Maharraqa. Various Roman penetrations further south are recorded, but Kush remained independent and regained some control over Lower Nubia during the late third/fourth centuries ad, before being displaced by local tribes. In its Upper Nubian heartland, the Kushite kingdom remains visible into the first half of the fourth century, when the last pyramids were built in the cemeteries of Meroë, after which the state appears to have finally fragmented, leading to a range of successor states throughout Nubia, which ran on into medieval times.

Now ruler of the whole of Egypt, Psamtik I secured his northeastern frontier through the construction or restoration of fortresses at Tell el-Qedua, Tell Dafana, and Tell el-Balamun—where the temple was also extended—in the east, and also at “Marua” in the west. The last stronghold may link with a Libyan campaign carried out by the king in Year 11, and also with the particular prominence of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty in the Western Desert oases. In the Levant, Herodotus records a siege (allegedly lasting twenty-nine years) carried out by Psamtik I against Ashdod on the Palestinian coast, as well as an attempted invasion of Egypt by the Scythians (originating from the northern shores of the Black Sea) who were, however, bought off by Psamtik while still in Palestine. The latter event would appear to have taken place between c. 637 and 625. Greeks seem to have remained an important part of Psamtik’s armies throughout his reign, the Aegean connection also being apparently furthered by the settlement of Greek traders in northern Egypt.

Building projects were also a result of the renewed prosperity of the reunited state, but only fragments of constructions at the dynastic seat of Sais now survive. Likewise little of Psamtik’s work at Heliopolis and Tanis remains extant. At Karnak, various structures were erected in the name of his daughter Neitiqerti I on the southern margin of the Montju enclosure.

Key to the re-establishment of the unitary state was the removal of one of the main drivers of the fissiparous tendencies of the Third Intermediate Period: the parallel authority of the Libyan tribal system. That Psamtik I was successful in doing so is to be seen by the way in which the once mighty Chiefs of the Ma disappear from the political landscape: the last one is spotted in Year 31 as a police official at the old Libyan stronghold of Herakleopolis.

Although nothing of Psamtik I’s burial survives, apart from a few shabtis, his tomb presumably formed part of the necropolis described by Herodotus, who records that Wahibre, fourth king of this dynasty, was

buried in the family tomb in the temple of Athena [Neith], nearest to the shrine, on the left hand as one goes in. The people of Sais buried all the kings who came from the province inside this area. The tomb of Amasis (Ahmose II) is also in the temple court, although further from the shrine than that of Apries (Wahibre) and his ancestors. It is a great cloistered building of stone, decorated with pillars carved in the imitation of palm trees, and other costly adornments. Within the cloister is a chamber with double doors, and behind the doors stands the sepulcher.

This implies that the earliest Saite kings—including the dynastic founder—were buried in a single tomb, or perhaps that each had a separate tomb below a single superstructure. Unfortunately the whole area has been destroyed in modern times and nothing can be verified on the ground.

The son and successor of Psamtik I, Wehemibre Nekau expended considerable effort in support of his dynasty’s former patron Assyria against the rising power of Babylon. Initially successful, he was able to occupy much of Syria–Palestine (including Qadesh) during his 609 campaign, killing the Judean king Josiah in battle at Megiddo.⁴⁹ However, Nekau’s forces were ultimately driven back by the Babylonians to the borders of Egypt following a disastrous defeat at Carchemish in northern Syria in 605.

Nekau also pursued an active maritime policy, attempting to dig a canal between the Nile and the Red Sea, and is said to have had Phoenician ships undertake a circumnavigation of Africa. Of his surviving monuments, a number had the king’s names erased after his death in 594, but it is unclear as to why this occurred.

The six-year reign of the son of Nekau II, Neferibre Psamtik (II), likewise included an active foreign policy, in particular a thrust into Nubia that reached at least the Third Cataract. Memorials to this included a large number of graffiti left by Greek mercenaries at Abu Simbel, which include the detail that the Egyptian troops on the campaign were led by General Ahmose and the foreigners by General Pediamensematawi (Potasimto). This was followed by an expedition into Palestine, which included the killing of the Judean king Josiah at Megiddo in 609. Psamtik II had at least two children: his son and successor Wahibre, and a daughter Ankhnesneferibre, who succeeded Neitiqerti I as God’s Wife of Amun in 586.

Relatively little is known about events within Egypt prior to the last years of the reign of Haaibre Wahibre (Greek Apries, the Biblical Hophra), although a number of building projects can be attributed to the time. Abroad, the king continued the policy of his father and his grandfather in intervening in Syria–Palestine against the Babylonians, as a result of which Egypt suffered a short-lived invasion by Nebuchadrezzar II in 582. However, between 574 and 571, Wahibre carried out successful campaigns along the Levantine coast, before embarking on a disastrous campaign to the west into Libya, which resulted in his army’s defeat. This resulted in a revolt by the Egyptian elements of the army, who then proclaimed the official Ahmose (not Psamtik II’s general), sent to quell the mutiny, as king.

Wahibre led an army of Carian and Ionian mercenaries west from Sais to confront the rebels, but was defeated in the ensuing battle. Although Ahmose thus gained royal power in the north of Egypt around the beginning of February 570, Wahibre continued to be acknowledged as king further south (possibly maintaining a stronghold in his palace at Memphis). Then, in October/November 570, a final battle took place, after which Wahibre seems to have fled, ultimately finding his way to Babylon, where he was welcomed as a guest by his erstwhile foe, Nebuchadrezzar II.

Although Khnemibre Ahmose (II) was henceforth generally accepted as king, Wahibre attempted to regain power in the wake of a Babylonian invasion of Egypt in the spring of 567 and died in the process. However, Ahmose buried the former king in the royal cemetery at Sais (cf. p. 175), presumably to ritually legitimize his status as Wahibre’s successor.

Continuity was also maintained by Wahibre’s sister Ankhnesneferibre’s remaining God’s Wife of Amun at Thebes, albeit Ahmose’s own daughter, Neitiqerti (II), was adopted by her as her eventual successor. Notwithstanding the fact that Ahmose II came to power against a background of antipathy toward Greek soldiery, which formed the cornerstone of Wahibre’s army, such troops continued to be employed, but Greek traders were henceforth concentrated at the northwestern Delta commercial center and fortress at Naukratis. Ahmose also allied with various Greek states as bulwarks against Babylonian (and later Persian) threats to Egypt’s independence, reinforcing his alliances by donations to key Greek sanctuaries, including Delphi.

The king was an extensive builder, carrying out work throughout the Delta, including the capital city of Sais, as well as at Memphis and elsewhere in the Nile valley—and in the Western Desert oases, including the building at Aghurmi, in the Siwa Oasis, that became the famous Temple of the Oracle visited by Alexander the Great. The number of temples built there suggests that a particular interest was being taken by the Twenty-sixth Dynasty in the development of the Western Desert region, which was then enthusiastically continued by the Persians, Ptolemies, and Romans.

Ahmose II’s last years were clouded by the steady advance of the Persians, who had long since disposed of Babylon, conquered the Greek states of Asia, and were now the sole great power in the Levant. By the time of the king’s death in 526, Persian forces were bearing down upon Egypt, and would overrun the country not long after the accession of his son Psamtik III. Ahmose II’s burial at Sais was allegedly desecrated by the Persian king Kambyses following the occupation.

The brief reign of the son of Ahmose II, Ankhka(en)re Psamtik, during 526/525 BC thus saw the last phase of Egypt’s struggle to avoid absorption into the Persian empire. His forces having been defeated in the northeast Delta, Psamtik withdrew to Memphis, where he surrendered after a siege. At first treated by the Persians as an honored guest, he fell into plotting against the Persian king and was executed.

Thus came to an end, for over a century, Egypt’s status as an independent nation. Until 404, she formed an integral part of the Persian Empire, and while the earlier kings—in particular Darius—had themselves portrayed as proper pharaohs, this concept rapidly declined to such a degree that no hieroglyphic mentions of Xerxes II, Darius II, and Artaxerxes II appear to survive. From 404 to 343, indigenous rule was restored under the Twenty-eighth through Thirtieth Dynasties, marked by significant building and successful resistance to the resurgent Persians, but troubled by incessant internal squabbling that inevitably weakened the state.

In 343, however, king Nakhthorheb fled to Nubia in the face of, at last, a successful Persian invasion, leaving Egypt as just one part of the former Persian Empire to be conquered by Alexander the Great in 332. Falling to Ptolemy (I) Soter at the dissolution of the Alexandrine possessions, Egypt would form the core of a new Levantine empire until 30 BC, when she became part of the Roman imperial domains. It would not be until ad 1922 that she would once again become a freestanding state, and not until 1952 the untrammeled mistress of her own destinies.