Twenty-Fifth Dynasty: The Kushite Egyptian I

Kushite Egyptian Army

Nubia was lost to Egypt about 1080 B.C. after a civil war between its viceroy (titled “The King’s Son of Kush”) and the Libyan-connected High Priest of Amun at Thebes. The later partly-Egyptianised Kings of Kush adopted many of the trappings of Egyptian kingship and were fanatically devoted to the Egyptian religion. When the Libyan Pharaoh Tefnakht attempted to extend his control to southern Egypt, till then ruled by the priests of Amun as vassals of Kush, the Kushite King Piye retaliated by sending a crusading army down the Nile in 730 B.C. to restore the decadent northerners to godliness, defeated their combined armies and became Pharaoh of Egypt as far north as Thebes. His successor Shabaka finished them off in 712 and extended the dynasty’s rule to the whole of Egypt. A series of wars with Assyria for control of Syria followed, with eventual defeat for the Kushites, who were driven right out of Egypt in 664 B.C., but continued to rule in the Sudan, moving their capital south to Meroe circa 593 B.C. to found the Kingdom of Meroe. Assyrian depictions of Kushite troops show charioteers, archers, and infantry with pairs of javelins and smallish round shields. The few armoured infantry are probably officers. Nubian royal monuments show large numbers of ridden horses. The change to 4-horse 3-crew chariots was complete by 673 B.C..

In Nubia, following the end of Egyptian rule there in the late Twentieth Dynasty, there must also have been military activities. Again these are not documented for some time, the first indication of a civil war being found in the extremely difficult inscription of Karimala carved in the temple at Semna at the Second Cataract. Military actions must have played a significant role in the formation of the new Kushite state that had come into existence by about 750 B.C.. Under the rule of Kashta (c. 750-736 B.C.), the Kushite army had become sufficiently large and well-armed to invade Egypt and take control of Thebes and leave a garrison there. Again, military activities within Egypt itself are implicit, but the response of Kashta’s successor, Piye (c. 736-712 B.C.), to the southward expansion of the Libyan dynast, Tefnakht, is detailed in the text of a very long inscription, known as the “Victory Stela.” Although couched in the language of a conventional Egyptian royal inscription, this document does detail the progress of Piye’s campaign against the coalition of northern rulers led by Tefnakht. There are references to conflict on the river, to sieges, and to siege engines, scaling towers, and ladders.

The fundamental basis of Kushite rule was military power. Close links between the king and his army are apparent throughout the 25th Dynasty. The devotion of Piy’s troops to their master is constantly stressed in the text of his triumphal stele, and physical prowess and military training were held to be of importance both to the rulers them- selves and to their soldiers. Hence the young Taharqo was present in person at the battle of Eltekeh (701 BC), while a stele from Dahshur recounts details of a gruelling military exercise organized by the same king in the desert between Memphis and the Faiyum. However, in spite of the strength of their armed forces, the Kushite kings perhaps felt unequal to the task of controlling both their native land and a unified Egypt. This may have influenced their toleration of a decentral- ized administration within Egypt, since the principalities that had enjoyed near-autonomy under the Libyan pharaohs retained their indi- viduality throughout the rule of the Kushites.

The evidence of the “Victory Stela” of Piye implies a style of campaign typical of the Late Bronze Age, but in western Asia there were now changes in army, weaponry, and warfare, introduced by the principal power, Assyria. The Assyrians had iron weapons, although at this stage they might not been the decisive factor in their victories. More significant may have been the larger types of horse that had been introduced and bred, leading to a far greater use of cavalry and reduction in chariotry. The Assyrians used a heavy chariot, rather than the fast light- framed vehicle of the Late Bronze Age. They also had sophisticated siege engines and scaling towers that they used with great effect, and which are depicted in the scenes of their campaigns in Palestine.

Established as the major power holders in Egypt, the Kushites under Piye’s successors, Shabaqo, Shebitqo, and Taharqo, began to offer support to the rulers of Palestine and the Levant in their bids for independence from the Assyrians. The first major conflict came at the battle of Eltekeh (701 B.C.), in which the Egyptian-Kushite army was forced to retreat. Later activities were apparently more successful, but led to Assyrian invasions of Egypt. The Kushite position was made more difficult by the political machinations of the Libyan dynasts, one of whom, Psamtik, eventually succeeded in reuniting the whole of Egypt under his rule, forcing the last Kushite pharaoh, Tanwetamani, to abandon Thebes and Upper Egypt (656 B.C.).

ELTEKEH. Battle in 701 BC between the Egyptian-Kushite and Assyrian armies. It is documented by the Annals of Sennacherib and the biblical record of 2 Kings 20. Eltekeh (Assyrian: Altaqu) is probably to be identified with Tell esh-Shallaf, 15 kilometers south of Joppa. The Assyrian army was marching south toward Ekron, having captured Joppa, when they encountered the Egyptian army sent by Shabaqo advancing from Gaza. The biblical record states that Taharqo led the Egyptian army, although he was not reigning as pharaoh and was probably too young to have participated. The Egyptians were defeated and withdrew to Gaza to recoup. The battle was one engagement during the campaign of Sennacherib against Judah, which also included the sieges of Lachish and Jerusalem.

ISHKHUPRI (671 BC). Site of a battle between the invading armies of Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, and the Egyptian-Kushite forces under Taharqo. It is recorded only in the Assyrian records, where its location appears to be somewhere in the Eastern Delta or on the Ways of Horus. It might perhaps be identified with a place on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, near Faqus.

Piankhi (1) (Piye) (d. 712 B.C.) Second ruler of the Nubian Twenty-fifth Dynasty.

He reigned over Egypt and Nubia (modern Sudan) from 750 B.C. until his death. He was the son of the Nubian ruler KASHTA and Queen PEBATMA. Piankhi entered Egypt in response to pleas from people suffering under the reign of TEFNAKHTE of SAIS in the Twenty-fourth Dynasty (r. 724-717 B.C.). Piankhi claimed that his military campaign was justified by his desire to restore the faith of the people in the god AMUN. The great temple of Amun at NAPATA maintained the traditional tenets and rituals of the cult, but the Egyptians appeared to have become lax in their devotion. Piankhi sent an army into Egypt to rectify that lapse in Amunite fervor. A stela of victory at the temple of Amun in Napata, reproduced at other major Egyptian sites, recounts the military campaigns conducted in his name. His army faced a coalition of Egyptian forces led by Tefnakhte of Sais. Other rulers allied with Tefnakhte were OSORKON IV of TANIS, PEFTJAU’ABAST of HERAKLEOPOLIS, NIMLOT (4) of HERMOPOLIS, and IUPUT (4) of LEONTOPOLIS. They marched to Herakleopolis and were defeated in a confrontation with Piankhi. Tefnakhte fled but was taken prisoner when the Nubians moved northward. Piankhi conducted two naval battles to defeat Tefnakhte in the Delta, and all of the local rulers surrendered. Piankhi returned to Thebes soon after to celebrate the Amunite Feast of OPET. He stayed several months and then returned to Napata. Piankhi had married PEKASSATER, the daughter of Nubian king ALARA. While in Thebes, he had his sister, AMENIRDIS (1), adopted by SHEPENWEPET (1) as the GOD’S WIFE OF AMUN, or Divine Adoratrice of Amun. The Nubians ruled almost all of Egypt at the end of Piankhi’s stay. His dynasty would bring about a renaissance of the arts in Egypt and would maintain a vigorous defense of the nation. Piankhi died at Napata and was buried in the royal necropolis at El-Kurru. Burial chambers for his favorite horses were erected around his tomb. Piankhi was succeeded by his brother SHABAKA.

Shabaka Shabaka (reigned ca. 712-ca. 696 B.C.) was a Nubian king who established the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Lower Egypt and thus became the first of the “Ethiopian” pharaohs.

Shabaka succeeded his brother Piankhi as ruler of the Nubian kingdom of Kush in what is now northern Sudan. At this time the people of the Mediterranean world called all black people south of Egypt “Ethiopian,” so this name became associated with the Egyptian dynasty of Nubian kings. Shabaka and his successors, however, had nothing to do with the modern country called Ethiopia.

Piankhi had subdued Lower Egypt 10 years before Shabaka came to power but had failed to leave a permanent administration there. Thus Shabaka had to undertake the task of reconquering Lower Egypt completely anew. Despite the fact that Shabaka, unlike Piankhi, established an effective administration over all of Egypt, Piankhi received more attention in the histories because he left much more detailed written descriptions of his activities.

During Shabaka’s reign Egypt experienced the prelude to the Assyrian conquest. Shabaka appreciated the serious danger of the growing power of the Assyrians to the north-east of Egypt, and he tried to get Syria and Palestine to revolt in order to create buffer states. This attempt failed when the Assyrians put down the revolts, and Assyria and Egypt approached a major confrontation. It is, however, unclear whether any battle actually took place at this time. Shabaka is often identified with the “So” of the Old Testament who fought the Assyrians, but this identification is highly tenuous.

The remainder of Shabaka’s reign seems to have been peaceful. He established his capital at Thebes in Middle Egypt and fostered the priesthood and religious architecture. He restored the ancient temple at Thebes and completed much repair work on temples throughout Upper and Lower Egypt. According to Herodotus, he abolished capital punishment in Egypt.

About 696 he was succeeded by his nephew Shabataka (Shebitku). The threat of Assyrian attack still hung over the kingdom, so Shabataka also placed his younger brother Taharqa on the throne as coregent, as had been commonly done throughout Egyptian history in order to assure the development of strong leadership.

After Shabataka died 5 years later, Taharqa became the sole ruler, but he was eventually driven out of Lower Egypt by the Assyrians and the Twenty-fifth Dynasty came to an end. Shabaka’s descendants did, however, continue to rule in Kush for another thousand years, while Egypt continued in its decline under a succession of foreign conquerors.

Taharqa (Taharqo, Tarku, Tirhaka) (d. 664 B.C.) Ruler of the Nubian Twenty-fifth Dynasty He reigned from 690 B.C. until forced to abandon Egypt. He was the son of PIANKHI and the cousin of SHEBITKU, whom he succeeded. His mother, ABAR, came from NUBIA(modern Sudan) to visit and to bless his marriage to Queen AMUN-DYEK’HET. They had two sons, Nesishutef- nut, who was made the second prophet of Amun, and USHANAHURU, who was ill-fated. Taharqa’s daughter, AMENIRDIS (2), was adopted by SHEPENWEPET (2) and installed as a GOD’S WIFE OF AMUN at THEBES.

In 674 B.C., Taharqa met the Assyrian king ESSARHADDON and his army at Ashkelon, defeating the enemy and raising a STELA to celebrate the victory. He also built extensively, making additions to the temples of AMUN and MONTU at KARNAK and to MEDINET HABU and MEMPHIS. One of his structures at Karnak was erected between a SACRED LAKE and the outer wall. He built two colossal uraei at Luxor as well and a small shrine of Amun at the third cataract of the Nile. In 680 B.C., Essarhaddon once again attacked Egypt and took the capital of Memphis and the royal court. Taharqa fled south, leaving Queen Amun-dyek’het and Prince Ushanahuru to face the enemy. They were taken prisoner by Essarhaddon and sent to Nineveh, Assyria, as slaves. Two years later, Taharqa marched with an army to retake Egypt, and Essarhaddon died before they met. Taharqa massacred the Assyrian garrison in Egypt when he returned. ASSURBANIPAL, Essarhaddon’s successor, defeated Taharqa.

Taharqa’s position in Egypt was made difficult by the self-interest of the Libyan dynasts of the Delta, who constantly changed their allegiance. The principal anti-Kushite and pro-Assyrian ruler was Nekau I of Sau, although even he joined with other dynasts in the rebellion against Ashurbanipal. The details of the conflict between Taharqa and the Assyrians are documented in official Assyrian inscriptions, including a rock-cut stela at the Nahr el-Kelb and records of omens responding to requests to the sun god Shamash. Although it is generally thought that the Assyrian fighting machine was better equipped and trained than that of Egypt, Taharqa showed remarkable ability in assembling new forces and some success in open battle. The internal political intrigues of the rulers of the Delta and western Asia played a significant role in the successes and failures of both sides.

TANUTAMUN, Taharqa’s cousin, was installed as coregent and successor and Taharqa returned to Nubia. He was buried at Nuri in Nubia. His pyramidal tomb was small but designed with three chambers.

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