Following the death of Tausret it was not certain if Bay tried to claim the throne but the first known ruler of the 20th Dynasty was Sethnakht. He did not rule for very long and was then succeeded by his son, Rameses III. Egypt was a peaceful country at this time, but soon he had to contend with more immigration problems of the Libyan tribes. The biggest problem Rameses III had to face was an attack by the Sea Peoples on the Delta. The Egyptian forces were well prepared for the attack and fought of the invaders, preventing the Sea Peoples from increasing their empire. The Sea Peoples were in control of a large area of the Eastern Mediterranean but never managed to conquer Egypt.

Rameses III built numerous monuments and temples. The biggest and most elaborate was the Mortuary Temple at Medinet Habu. He also expanded the city of Piramesse. Egypt was plagued with corruption following an unsettled period prior to his ascension to the throne. Rameses III donated large areas of land to the major temples at Heliopolis, Memphis and Thebes. The temples owned a third of the fertile land by the end of his reign. Three quarters of this was owned by the Cult of Amun at Thebes. The priesthood of Amun became more and more powerful, upsetting the balance of power between the State and Temples leading to economic crisis. The situation led to the monthly rations for the people of Deir El-Medina being delayed, to which the workmen organized the first strike in history!

Towards the end of his reign there was an assassination attempt on the life of Rameses III. One of the king`s wives, Tiy, was the ring leader supported by harem officials. They aimed to replace him with Tiy`s son, Pentaweret. The attempt was unsuccessful and those involved were tried and sentenced. Many were forced to commit suicide.

Following Rameses III`s natural death, his fifth son, Rameses IV took the throne. He began building a mortuary temple and his royal tomb at the beginning of his reign but little of his anticipated projects were completed as he died after only a few years. During his brief time in power further problems occurred in the payment of wages to the workers at Deir El-Medina. The power of the priests of Amun from Thebes continued to grow, with the Temple of Amun now being partly responsible for the payment of wages and not the state. The position of High Priest of Amun became a hereditary one, with the king no longer able to exert much control over this appointment. 

Rameses IV was followed on his death by his son Rameses V. The most notable event in his reign was a crime and corruption scandal in the priesthood at Elephantine. Rameses V died after four years, of smallpox.

He was followed by a younger son of Rameses III, who became Rameses VI. He claimed the tomb prepared for his nephew Rameses V, for himself. The deceased king could not be buried until another tomb was prepared which was into the new king`s second year in power. He reigned for seven years, after which time he was succeeded by another of Rameses III's sons. 

The reign of Rameses VII was even shorter than his predecessor. The next king was also a son of Rameses III.

The next king, Rameses IX, reigned for eighteen years, during which the country was troubled by raids by Libyan tribes and further strikes. There were also some robberies of a 17th Dynasty royal tomb at Dra Abu El-Naga and some private tombs, along with thefts from temples. The power of the priesthood of the Temple of Amun at Karnak had by now reached a level as great, if not more, than that of the pharaoh. In two wall reliefs at Karnak, the High Priest of Amun is shown as the same size as the king. The wealth of the king`s estate was by now reduced to what it had been in previous years.

Very little is known about Rameses X. His successor, Rameses XI, reigned for thirty years. His reign was plagued with further problems. The workmen in Thebes were unable to go to work on the West Bank due to the threat of Libyan gangs. There were more robberies of tombs, palaces and temples, as well as famine and eventually civil war. The Viceroy of Nubia, Panehsy, took his army to Thebes in an attempt to restore peace to the area. When he was there he took on the title of "Overseer of the granaries" so that he could ensure that his men were fed. This caused trouble with the High Priest of Amun, Amenhotep, as his estate owned most of the areas fertile land. At one point, Panehsy`s troops held Amenhotep at Medinet Habu in a siege. Amenhotep requested help from the king, which then started the civil war. Panehsy`s troops pushed northwards until the king`s army, led by General Piankh, forced them back into Nubia.

General Piankh claimed the title of Overseer of the Granaries and also became High Priest of the Temple of Amun after Amenhotep died. Piankh was now in charge of the Theban area and acted as King of Upper (Southern) Egypt for the last seven years of Rameses XI`s reign. Following the death of Piankh, his role was inherited by his son-in-law, Herihor. When Rameses XI died the rule of the North of Egypt was taken over by Smendes, who is the founder of the 21st Dynasty

Madinat Habu temple built by Rameses III

(1) Corridor of Rameses IV's Tomb leading to his Granite Sarcophagus. 
(2) Part of the ceiling in the tomb of Rameses IV showing scrolls with the king`s name and a winged solar disk.
(3) The ceiling inside Rameses VI's tomb showing an image of the winged sky goddess nut.
(4) Inside the sarcophagus room of Rameses VI
(5) Wall decoration in the tomb of Rameses VI. 
(6 )Wall decoration inside the sarcophagus room in Rameses VI's tomb. 

      (To be continued)

(1) The term 'Sea Peoples' was first  introduced by the French Egyptologist Gaston Maspero.  Sea Peoples were a race of ship-faring raiders who drifted into the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and attempted to enter Egyptian territory during the late 19th dynasty, and especially year 5 of Rameses III of the 20th Dynasty.

These seafarers invaded eastern Anatolia, Syria, Palestine, Cyprus and Egypt in the 2nd millenium BCE. The exact ethnic origin, culture and language is not known.

The Sea Peoples could well be a branch of another people of the region, and there have been several suggestions to this: Ekmesh (a name the Hittites used for the Ahhiyawa), Teresh, Tyrrhenians (ancestors of the Estruscans), Sardinians, Shekelesh of Sicily or Pelest. Another theory is that they could have been a deserted army, or even survivors after a lost war.

Despite their name, their main military campaigns were overland. They started near Ugarit (the location of which corresponds to modern Latakia, Syria),The destructionof Ugarit, was so heavy that it was abandoned forever, Then they  continued south, until they ran into Egyptian forces in 1231 BCE where they fought  the forces of King Merneptah. According to the Victory Stela found near Thebes, the Sea Peoples consisted of the following peoples or clans: Shardana, Lukka, Meshwesh, Teresh, Ekwesh and Shekelesh. While Merneptah claimed victory over the Sea People, this is perhaps not true, since Egypt entered a period of much internal unrest following this battle.

We have received important information on the Sea Peoples, principally what they looked like, from Egyptian temple reliefs, like the temple of Ramses III at Madinat Habu near Luxor.

When the Sea People attacked different countries, they attacked capitals and cities important to administration. In these cities they destroyed government buildings, palaces and temples, while leaving residential areas and the surrounding countryside untouched. By doing this, they destroyed the local leadership, and could win fairly easy victories.

The Sea Peoples were in almost all ways a negative and destructive force for the region. Even if the Sea People destroyed much through their campaigns, it is believed that they were the founders of the Philistine and Phoenician civilizations, which soon grew to some of the most important forces in the eastern Mediterranean



 © Jano El-Kady 2005 

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