Following the defeat of Panehsy by General Piankh, the Egyptians did not re-take control of Nubia. Due to this Egypt lost access to the gold mines and reduced its ability to trade. This seriously affected the revenue received from these areas. The Twenty First Dynasty was a combination of northern kings and Theban based army commanders who were also high priests of Amun.

Map of  the Ancient Egyptian dynasties in the third Intermediate period 

The first king of this dynasty was Smendes. He was based in Tanis, located in the Egyptian Delta area. During this phase of history the God Amun was seen as the Supreme God and the "True King of Egypt". The pharaohs were now viewed as appointees of Amun. Tanis was created as a Northern cult centre of Amun. Temples to the Theban Triad were erected here and the kings of the Twenty First Dynasty were buried inside the area of the temples. Memphis remained the administrative centre.

In Upper Egypt power was held by the family of General Piankh, who combined the roles of Commander of the Army and High Priest ofAmun. Their power originated from oracles proclaimed by Amun, Mut and Khons of the Theban Triad. The kings based in Tanis were recognized as Kings of Egypt, but the control of Upper and Middle Egypt actually belonged to the Theban based commanders. During this time the Valley of the Kings was no longer used for Royal burials, leading to the village of Deir El-Medina being broken up. Many of the tombs were raided, their riches stolen and the mummies re buried in secret caches. 

Canopic jars from the third intermediate period

After the deaths of Smendes and his successor, Amenemnisu, Psusennes I became king. He was the son of Pinudjem I, a Theban commander. Menkheperra, Psusenne`s brother, took control of Upper Egypt. The same family therefore controlled the whole of Egypt for a while. In 984 BC, another family took control of the Delta area. A Libyan, Osorkon the Elder, then became king. The Twenty First Dynasty ended however with a Theban commander as king. This was Psusennes II.

A large number of Libyans had settled in Egypt as immigrants, or as captives of war and a large proportion of the Egyptian army comprised of Libyan mercenaries by the end of the New Kingdom. At the start of the Twenty Second Dynasty, the Chief of Meshwesh, a Libyan Tribe, became ruler of Egypt. He was King Sheshonq I, who was the nephew of King Osorkon the Elder and Father-in-Law to Psusennes II`s daughter.
During Sheshonq`s reign New Kingdom models of Pharaonic rule were reinstated. Prince Iuput, one of Sheshonq`s sons became High Priest of Amun, along with army commander. This was an attempt to curb the independence of Thebes. Sheshonq I led military expeditions in the Levant region for the first time in over a century. Inscriptions at Karnak talk of one such expedition against Israel and Judah, along with the Palestinian towns of Gaza and Megiddo. 

This campaign is also recorded in the Bible (1KGS. 14:25-6). The campaign was in support of an Egyptian exile, Jeroboam, who had taken the throne in Judah. Soon after Sheshonq returned to Egypt he died. Sheshonq I had planned to build a great court at Karnak. The only part to be completed was the "Bubastite Portal" which records his Palestinian victories.

Provincial rulers continued to regain power lessening the strength of the King and leading to Egypt`s fragmentation. The position of High Priest of Amun once again became hereditary. Despite the attempt to position royal relations in key posts in major cities, e.g. Memphis and Thebes, these provincial areas continued to become more independent of the state.

On a statue of Osorkon II found in Tanis, Osorkon II asks Amun to appoint his children to important civil and religious positions and to ensure that "no brother should be jealous of brother". The decentralization of Egypt continued during the late Eighth Century BC.  The provinces being ruled by princes and Libyan rulers. In an attempt to regain authority in Thebes violence resulted. An inscription can be seen on the Bubastite Portal at Karnak describing the conflicts that arose as Prince Osorkon, Takelot II's son, tried to take over as High Priest of Amun.

Many local rulers took on the titles of kingship having gained much autonomy during the reign of Sheshonq III. Pedubastis I was the first such ruler. His rule was acknowledged by Thebes instead of Sheshonq II`s. This continued for many of his successors. Some of these local kings are known as rulers of the Twenty Third Dynasty.

There were two kings based in the Delta in 730 BC, at Bubastis and Leontopolis, another at Hermopolis and one at Herakleopolis (in Upper Egypt). There was also a "Prince of the West" based in Sais, a Prince Regent and four Great chiefs of Ma. The Prince of the West, Tefnakht, controlled the Western Delta and Memphis.

The Kushite rulers became stronger in the latter half of the 8th century BC. The Nubian ruler, Piy, led his troops into Egypt to counteract Tefnakht`s push further south. Thebes soon became controlled by Piy, along with many towns and cities in northern Upper Egypt. Piy gained control of Memphis using his military might. Piy then returned to Nubia. Tefnakht then became the acknowledged king.

His successor, Bakenrenef, was from the 24th Dynasty. He was based at Sais, but was acknowledged as the king as far south as Herakleopolis.

In 716 BC, the Nubian king, Shabaqo, again invaded Egypt.Shabaqo and his successors were known as the 25th Dynasty. Despite the previous Egyptian ruler, Bakenrenef being executed the new dynasty did not succeed in Returning Egypt to a centralized state. These Kushite rulers were seen as overlords while local dynasts continued to control their own areas. The Kushite Kings wished to be accepted as traditional pharaohs. In an attempt to achieve this they associated themselves with various traditional religious beliefs. They made Memphis their base and encouraged the revival of styles of art, literature and religion from the previous "Glory days" of Egypt. Thebes again became an important religious center. The power and status of the High Priest of Amun was much reduced. The role of "God`s Wife of Amun" became more important. The position was usually held by a celibate Priestess who was often a royal Princess.

The kings of the 25th dynasty were not satisfied to retain the rule of Egypt but wished to expand her empire again. In doing this they encountered the forces of Assyria who were also trying to take control of the Levant.  Throughout the reign of Taharqo, Egypt had to attempt to defend her borders from Assyrian attacks. Eventually Thebes fell to the Assyrian, Ashurbanipal and the Kushite ruler was banished from Egypt.

(1) Outer coffin of Henettawy. C 1040 - 331 BC. 3rd Intermediate Period Egyptian. Thebes. During the 21st dynasty the tombs no longer contained elaborate texts and images. these were now located on the surfaces of the coffin itself and on papyri.

(2) Weighing a soul from a tomb casket. C 1000 BC. Now in Paris, Louvre. 

(3) Section of the book of the dead of  Nany, C 1040 - 945 BC. Dynasty 21, reigns of Psusennes I-II, third intermediate period.

(4) Shabtis from the 21st Dynasty. 

(5) Pharaoh Osorkon I C 924 - 889 BC. 3rd Intermediate Period sculpture. From Lebanon, Jubayl. 

      (To be continued)

 © Jano El-Kady 2005 

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