This article surveys the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt, with reference to that period's major kings, main historical events, and significant cultural and social developments. It comprises five articles:
The third major era of Egyptian history (c. 1569–1076 bce) is called the New Kingdom. Although periodization has been criticized as reflecting the categories, outmoded or gratuitous, of Western historiography (e.g., Redford 1979, pp. 16–18), there is some justification for this period in ancient records. In an episode of the feast of the god Min from Ramesses II's memorial temple on the western bank of the Nile at Thebes (published by the University of Chicago Epigraphic Survey, Medinet Habu, 1930–1970, vol. 4, pl. 213), the rites are witnessed by a selection of royal ancestors, each represented by a statue; most of these are the current ruler's official forebears and are traced back to Ahmose, whose victory over the Near Eastern Hyksos regime had earned him recognition as the “founder” of the eighteenth dynasty. Earlier periods are represented in a more cursory fashion by only two figures: Nebhepetre Montuhotep I (eleventh dynasty), who reunited Egypt about 2040 by putting an end to the rival tenth dynasty at Herakleopolis; and Menes, the semi-mythical founder of the united monarchy of Upper and Lower Egypt. Underlying this arrangement is a conception of Egyptian history defined by three periods of national unity—a combined “Early Dynastic period/Old Kingdom,” followed by a “Middle Kingdom,” and finally by the third, then current, “New Kingdom” era consisting of the eighteenth (c. 1569–1315 bce) and nineteenth (c. 1315–1201 bce) dynasties, to which would be added the twentieth dynasty (c. 1200–1081 bce).
Imperialism is the hallmark of New Kingdom statecraft. While earlier pharaohs had felt free to chastise troublemakers beyond their borders, no one had ever sought to end such disturbances through the mechanisms of permanent control. The virtual hegemony Egypt had exercised over the Sinai and parts of Nubia during earlier periods had been intermittent, enforced whenever Egyptians needed the products of those areas by expeditionary forces deployed against feeble opponents. Even those foreign princes who had recognized the pharaoh as their overlord were independent and sovereign rulers, deferring only in the few areas—such as state trade and the occasional recruitment of mercenaries or local labor— that impinged directly on their suzerain's interests. Egyptian outposts on foreign territory (such as the string of forts built during the Middle Kingdom at the Second Cataract in Nubia) marked a functional extension of the Egyptian border rather than an attempt to occupy hostile powers, most of which still lay beyond the range of Egyptian control. Before the New Kingdom, it might be said that Egypt's foreign policy focused on obtaining what it needed from the outside world, which otherwise it kept comfortably at arm's length.
The bitter experience of the Second Intermediate Period, when a rump pharaonic state in Upper Egypt had been hemmed in by its Hyksos overlord in the north and the kingdom of Kush to the south (c. 1664–1545 bce), must have influenced the more aggressive tack that Egyptian policy subsequently took toward its neighbors. The approach was consistent in neither substance nor pace. Change came soonest, and most boldly, in Nubia, which was assuming the character of a separate province in the earliest eighteenth dynasty, even before Egyptian conquests there had reached their fullest extent. Under Kamose (reckoned as the last king of the seventeenth dynasty), Egypt had repossessed the Second Cataract forts that had been abandoned during the late Middle Kingdom and then occupied by forces of the “ruler of Kush”; and in the time of Ahmose, Kamose's brother and successor, comes the first mention of the viceroy who would govern the rapidly growing territory. To be sure, the tight control Egypt asserted so swiftly in Nubia may reflect its anxiety to avert further danger from the upper Nile Valley; but security concerns at home may also have played a part. Certainly it seems odd that Ahmose, a full-blooded scion of the Theban royal family, faced no fewer than two rebellions in Upper Egypt; the first was led by one Aata, perhaps a Nubian, “who came on behalf of (?) the south” (as a contemporary says) before he was subdued by the gods of Upper Egypt; the other was led by an Egyptian named Tetian. Although a challenge to the reigning dynasty has been read into the second uprising, both may reflect discontent among Ahmose's subjects. Some were surely affected by the new and intolerant nationalism that arose from the regime's drive against its foreign enemies: no longer could Thebans trade with the Hyksos and their Egyptian allies to the north; and in Upper Egypt, where Kushite rulers had recruited mercenaries to staff the border forts, the restrictive new order probably strained loyalties all the more. Under these circumstances, it would hardly be surprising that repressing dissidence at home coincided with extending the borders of Egypt in the southern Nile Valley.
In any case, the conquest of Nubia continued steadily until it had pushed beyond the Fourth Cataract under Thutmose I. This king's crude rock stela at Kurgus, not far south of the second great bend in the Nile at Abu Hamed, marks the southernmost limit of Egypt's conquests in Africa. Though the new province was not thoroughly pacified for another two generations, when Thutmose III added his own commemorative text at the southern border beside his grandfather's, the pattern of local government was already developed by then. A daring innovation, considering the trouble that ambitious officials had given the central government in earlier times, was the appointment of a viceroy to govern this vast province, which combined the Nubian regions of Kush and Wawat with the southern districts of Upper Egypt, up to Elkab. The extent of the viceroy's power was reflected in his title, “king's son,” apparently reflecting an earlier method of delegating royal authority by conferring princely status on high-ranking appointees who did not actually belong to the royal family. Subordinates of this “king's son of Kush,” as he came to be known, held military titles (such as “troop commander”) that more clearly reveal this government to be one of armed occupation. A few elite Nubians were still recognized as magnates in their home territories, but theirs were empty titles, since they served merely as intermediaries between their “subjects” and the ruling pharaonic power. Economic life in Nubia was dominated by Egyptians, with the “king's house” and temples in the northern Nile Valley controlling extensive land holdings there. Culturally, too, Egypt sought to absorb the deep South. Local Nubian deities in Egyptian “dress” (gods in the form of Horus, goddesses at Hathor) became part of official cults, which also embraced the worship not only of historic pharaohs (such as Senwosret III) but even of contemporary monarchs (most notably, Amenhotpe III and Ramesses II). Towns that grew up around state temples at places such as Gebel Barkal also played a part in mediating between Egypt's administration and a Nubian population that had no choice but to become ever more Egyptianized, though the native identity was never completely submerged.
The new dynasty's foreign policy was more conservative in other areas. Libya required little attention; and though representations of northerners in Egyptian tombs mirror the shift from Minoan to Mycenaean predominance that was taking place in the eastern Mediterranean during this period, nothing beyond commercial relations between those powers and the Nile Valley can be assumed at this time. In the Levant, where Ahmose had subdued the last outposts of Hyksos power, a potential new foe was rising in the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni. Egypt's response was the strike that Thutmose I led deep into northern Syria; but although a number of Asiatic city-states became tributary to Egypt as a result, the system had yet to consolidate the fruits of a foreign policy that was still in essence reactive. Firmer mechanisms of imperial control would only emerge two generations later, once other storms had been weathered at home.
The “Thutmosid succession” was the regime's first major domestic crisis. The royal family (which descended directly from the ruling house of the late seventeenth dynasty) was heavily inbred. Although consequences are difficult to prove, the family's main line ended with Amenhotpe I: his successor, Thutmose I, came from a different stock, at most a collateral branch of the old royal family, and he may not have been related to it at all. It has long been believed that Thutmose I began the practice of maintaining the new family's connection with the dynasty's founding line by marriage to an “heiress,” while his son and grandson, the future kings, were begotten on non-royal women. Evidence for this presumed link with Ahmose's family is fragile, although it is hard otherwise to explain why three generations of queens (Ahmose, Nefertari, Hatshepsut, and Nefrure) formed a female “dynasty” through their husbands, Thutmose I, II, and III. Most scholars today hesitate to read into their prominence any tendency toward matriarchy, although the unusual career of Hatshepsut has influenced (or distorted) our interpretation of events: from a position of exceptional power as consort to her half-brother, Thutmose II, she became regent for her infant stepson and nephew, Thutmose III, and finally his coregent (r. 1502–1482 bce) after being declared the pharaoh by an oracle of the god Amun-Re at Thebes. Resentment at Hatshepsut's usurpation has been adduced from Thutmose III's subsequent attack on her memory, when her monuments were altered to absorb her reign into those of her father, brother, and stepson. This persecution came late in Thutmose III's reign, however, long after Hatshepsut's death, and it is likelier to have been a calculated political move—perhaps a nervous overreaction designed to shore up the legitimacy of Thutmose III's heir, Amenhotpe II, who would have been the first of his line to have no connection whatever with the eighteenth dynasty's founding family.
The reign of Thutmose III (c. 1504–1452 bce) is also a watershed in Egypt's progress toward empire. In no fewer than fourteen campaigns, starting about 1482, he broke up a potentially threatening coalition of Syrian-Palestinian city-states and successfully resisted encroachments into Egypt's new sphere of influence by the rival kingdom of Mitanni. Even more significant, Thutmose III was the first king of Egypt to forge a continuous relationship with conquered city-states in Asia: their rulers were now the pharaoh's vassals, formally installed by him, serving at his pleasure and, like the subject Nubians, sending their sons to be educated (in gilded captivity) at the Egyptian court. Competition between Egypt and Mitanni, who were both defining their imperial orbits at this time, ebbed and flowed through succeeding reigns until it became clear that neither side could achieve all it wanted. True peace, and an entente cordiale between the two superpowers, finally came when Thutmose IV (r. 1419–1410 bce) married the first of three generations of Mitannian princesses who symbolized the pharaoh's “brotherhood” with the Hurrian king.
Although the mid-eighteenth dynasty is rich in monuments, few of its domestic events are known. Uncertainties about the reign of Thutmose IV in particular have given rise to conflicting estimates of its length and consequent differing reconstructions of the dynasty's absolute and relative chronology. These questions remain unresolved, with one “long” chronology (Wente and Van Siclen 1976) and a representative “short” scheme (Kitchen 1987)—being typical both for the problems and attempts to settle them.
The long reign of Amenhotpe III (c. 1410–1372 bce) found imperial Egypt at the height of its power. At home, the king cultivated the traditional images of sportsman and builder before stressing, especially in the last decade of his reign, a heightened divine identity to match his supreme status in society. A vast building program was expedited by the king's favorite, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, a man whose great ability matched the extravagant honors he was allowed to assume, perhaps by some political design of his master: in death he was eventually deified, and his cult survived into the last centuries of paganism. Thanks to the military and diplomatic achievements of his predecessors, moreover, Amenhotpe III was preeminent among the “great kings” in the Near East; princesses from both Mitanni and Babylon (as well as from less important allied and vassal states) graced his harem, though all were outranked by Tiye, his Egyptian chief queen; and—as the pharaoh reminded his brother-in-law, the king of Babylon—“From time immemorial no daughter of the king of Egypt is given to anyone” (EA 4: 4–10 in William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters [Baltimore, 1992], p. 8). Agreement among the superpowers, along with the absence of effective challengers, allowed trade to flourish, with gold and exotica from southern Africa being Egyptian specialties. Settled conditions in the Near East also gave Egypt the luxury of ruling its empire with a light hand. Troops and senior administrators were kept in only a few areas that, usually, were under direct Egyptian control. Garrisons were only sporadically present elsewhere and seem to have been rotated as needed. Even so, “the mighty arm of pharaoh” coerced vassals from afar into reporting pertinent news and cooperating with Egyptian commissioners and armies on the march. Amounts of “tribute” and the regularity of its collection are obscure, owing not least to the elasticity of Egyptian terms in such matters (although see Edward Bleiberg, The Official Gift in Ancient Egypt [Norman, 1996], pp. 114–125). It is clear, though, that vassals not only traded with their overlord but were even allowed (in some well-documented cases) to attack and even conquer one another: the pharaoh tolerated such rearrangements within his empire so long as the victors remembered their obligations to him. By the age of Amenhotpe III, then, the mechanisms of conquest had given way to those of imperial maintenance: instead of the regular campaigning that once had kept vassals in line, Egypt was now running its empire through intermediaries, intervening in force only under the strongest provocation. This policy, while suitable to an age of general peace, would prove costly in later, less settled times.
No one could have predicted that Egypt would be wracked by both foreign and domestic crises in the generation that followed Amenhotpe III. From the very beginning of his reign (c. 1372–1355 bce), Amenhotpe IV showed a preference for a new conception of the sun god, embodied in the solar orb (“Aten” in Egyptian), and this soon surpassed his devotion to the other gods whose cults were traditionally in the king's care. At first the pharaoh merely raised a new “one” above Egypt's many gods; but in word and deed he showed himself so hostile to the established cults that a breach soon followed. Withdrawing royal patronage from Thebes, the “city of Amun,” the king changed his name to Akhenaten (“effective on behalf of the orb”) and moved his capital to a new cult center for the Aten, freshly built on virgin territory at Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt, which he named Akhetaten (“horizon of the orb”). Despite the conspicuous public role of Akhenaten, along with his queen Nefertiti and their six daughters, little is known about events in Egypt during the so-called Amarna period. Clearly, though, the king's new order (which included the attempted banishment of the old gods by erasing their names and images from all earlier monuments) was unpopular. It was being abandoned by his ephemeral successor(s)—perhaps a female pharaoh identifiable with Nefertiti or (less probably) with her daughter Meritaten, and subsequently (?) the latter's husband, Smenkhkare—even before the orthodox religion was fully restored under Tutankhamun (r. 1355–1346 bce). In political terms, Akhenaten's most significant accomplishment was to weaken the royal family: apart from the uncertain effects the “troubles” had on the heretic and other members of his house, it seems clear that the most enduring successor of his line, Tutankhamun, merely reigned while real power was held by others, notably the chief courtier Ay and his rival, the general Horemheb. When Tutankhamun died suddenly, the throne passed in succession to these two nonroyal magnates before it fell to the family of another military man, Ramesses I (r. 1315–1314 bce), who began the nineteenth dynasty.
Not the least of Akhenaten's misfortunes was that his religious revolution coincided with a dramatic shift in the balance of power throughout the Near East. First came the Hittite kingdom's victory over Mitanni, which quickly caused the latter to disintegrate. With Mitanni's collapse came the emergence of Assyria, after centuries of impotence under Hurrian and Babylonian suzerainty, as a regional power in northern Mesopotamia. With one out of three fixtures of the old “great powers club” eliminated and the others at risk from two new contenders, there began a protracted period of adjustment. Most immediately affected was Egypt: it was the pharaoh's empire that now faced the destabilizing effects of the Hittite victory in northern Syria, where vassal states on all sides wavered between a cautious Egypt and the unpredictable new colossus. The loss of Egyptian vassals such as Ugarit and Kadesh, captured or enticed away under military pressure by Hatti, might have been tolerated; but when the king of Kadesh began to act aggressively as a Hittite recruiter, the pharaoh's patience wore out. What ensued was not all-out war between the two principals, but rather a carefully limited contest in which Egypt tried, unsuccessfully, to recover Kadesh and was then punished by Hittite raids on one of its border territories. (These failures, duly noted by Akhenaten's enemies at home, were interpreted as signs of divine anger at his revolution.) When Tutankhamun died, a faction in Egypt tried to normalize relations between the superpowers by offering his widow, and the throne of Egypt, to a Hittite prince; but the young man's death on the way (murdered, as the Hittites believed) finally unleashed the war both sides had been avoiding, putting off a settlement in western Asia for more than two generations to come.
The period of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties is referred to as the Ramessid age because two of its most important pharaohs, along with most of the less significant rulers, bore the personal name Ramesses. The earlier nineteenth dynasty continued to be dominated by reactions to the events of the Amarna period: damage inflicted on the orthodox temples by Akhenaten's iconoclasts was still being repaired under Sety I and Ramesses II; and the alternating pattern of hot and cold war with the Hittites continued. Although defections from the Egyptian empire are now seen as less extensive than was earlier believed— being confined to the northern Syrian territories of Ugarit, Amurru, and Kadesh—imperial government in Asia was firmer and less tolerant than before. Warfare between vassals seems to have been discouraged, and new “governors' residencies” sprang up to serve as local head-quarters for troops and depots for supplies. It might be said, with only slight exaggeration, that Egypt had implemented a policy of armed occupation in Asia, by contrast with the lighter governance up to the Amarna period. Egypt held its own by such measures, but it could not improve its position by much or for long. Sety I's temporary success in recovering Kadesh and Amurru was negated by the fresh loss of these provinces (and, briefly, more land in southern Syria) under Ramesses II, although the latter's confrontation with the Hittites at Kadesh was portrayed as a qualified victory in a widely circulated “official version” that was also displayed on the walls of temples in Egypt and Nubia. [See Battle of Kadesh.] Ramesses' stubbornness, as well as pressure on Hatti—from both civil strife and trouble with its increasingly active neighbor, Assyria—helped Egypt hold its own and eventually led to negotiations and a peace treaty. Neither side could claim total victory: Egypt had to accept the loss of its northern frontier provinces, and the Hittite regime tacitly acknowledged its dependence on Ramesses' good will, inasmuch as a deposed king of Hatti (who had fled to Egypt some years earlier) continued to live with his family at the pharaoh's court. More important, though, the treaty laid foundations for cooperation that had not existed since the entente cordiale between Egypt and Mitanni. The process of normalization was completed with the arrival in Egypt of the first of two Hittite princesses who would marry Ramesses II during his long reign.
Although the reign of Ramesses II would become a byword for splendor and stability at home, his successors had to face the problems their great ancestor avoided or finessed. His son Merneptah had to cope, almost simultaneously, with a rebellion in Nubia and invasion from the west, where a coalition of Libyans and Mediterranean marauders (generally termed the Sea Peoples) joined in a hard-fought but unsuccessful attack on the Egyptian Delta. Merneptah's son, Sety II, faced a more formidable challenge from a usurper named Amenmesse (probably representing a rival branch of the royal family) who reigned for several years before being dislodged. The succession question was far from settled, though. When Sety II died he was succeeded not by a son of his own, but by a crippled youth named Siptah (perhaps Amenmesse's son) who was controlled by his sponsor, a royal cupbearer of Near Eastern descent named Bay: this man is probably the Near Easterner called Irsu, “(He) Who Made Himself,” in the historical summary of the period recorded in the Harris Papyrus I. When Siptah died he was briefly succeeded by a woman, Tawosret (r. 1209–1201 bce), who had been Sety II's chief queen. The dynasty ended in renewed civil war, with many in the country's higher administrators (including Siptah's vizier and viceroy of Kush) aligning themselves with a pretender, Sethnakht, whose opposition was supported by Asiatic mercenaries. Sethnakht's victory in his second year on the throne brought an end to this time of troubles and to the nineteenth dynasty.
The problems of the new twentieth dynasty continued into the reign of Sethnakht's son, Ramesses III (r. 1198–1166 bce). The earliest dangers were from abroad, including fresh fighting in Nubia, two invasions from Libya, and a massive new assault by the Sea Peoples. The last were mostly different groups from those Merneptah had faced thirty years earlier, and the threat they represented was more formidable than before: the collapse of the Hittite empire had left a political vacuum in the Levant that Assyria, Hatti's eastern neighbor (and the only credible contender for supremacy in the area), was not yet ready to fill, leaving a clear path for the invaders. The most obvious of these foreign perils were seemingly quelled by the victories won in the first third of Ramesses III's reign. Even so, while the pharaoh might pose as a new Ramesses II, not a few unresolved issues stirred beneath his grandiloquent image. To begin with, the break-up of the “great powers” system in the Near East seems to have weakened Egyptian policy-makers' commitment to maintaining the empire in the Near East. A pharaonic presence there is last attested in the reign of Ramesses VI (c.1156–1149 bce), and by the end of the twelfth century, Egyptian hegemony was barely a memory, as other peoples (including such Sea Peoples as the Tchekker and Philistines, as well as the Phoenicians and Aramaeans farther north) formed small states in the areas formerly divided between the Egyptian and Hittite empires. The “Libyan problem,” too, was far from settled. For all their victories in set battles, neither Ramesses III nor Merenptah had been able to cut off the flow of Libyans who kept trickling into the Delta. Moreover, when Ramesses III pressed captured Libyans into his army and settled them in northern fortress-towns, he unwittingly gave them an identity within Egyptian society and a structure through which to interact with it: from these beginnings would come the Egyptian-Libyan military elites that would play a major role in the Nile Valley during the Third Intermediate and Late periods.
Conditions at home also belied pretenses of Ramessid splendor during the twentieth dynasty. Starting in Year 29 of Ramesses III, a series of “strikes” by the craftsmen who worked on royal and elite tombs at Thebes hint at “cash flow” difficulties (perhaps temporary) that inhibited the state's ability to cover all its obligations. Moreover, although Ramesses III was the first king since Ramesses II to celebrate a jubilee, his death shortly afterward (c.1166 bce) was clouded by a conspiracy against the heir apparent that involved not only dissidents from the royal family but also high officials at court and in the military establishment. No such disturbances seem to have marred the next seven reigns (since scholars no longer believe in hostilities between Ramesses VI and his two predecessors), but serious economic problems did. Notable was an increase in the price of grain, which rose to four times its earlier normal price before it stabilized, late in the period, at roughly twice its earlier cost. The causes of this inflation (which seems to have affected no other commodity prices) are elusive, though climatic change resulting in lower Nile flood levels may be involved. Hard times are often blamed for the startlingly high incidence of corruption and other law-breaking attested during the twentieth dynasty. Anecdotal evidence includes the pilfering of large amounts of grain and other property belonging to the temple of Khnum at Elephantine (Turin Indictment Papyrus, reigns of Ramesses IV and V), and trials for robbery of royal tombs under Ramesses IX and Ramesses XI. Widespread criminality in this period is patent, but the fundamental reasons for it remain unclear.
Civic peace was disrupted even more seriously under the dynasty's last ruler, Ramesses XI (c.1111–1081 bce), by what contemporaries called “the war of the high priest” Amenhotep. Though some scholars (most notably Janssen-Winkeln 1992) continue to believe this was a rebellion instigated by the head of the Theban clergy in a bid for independence, it seems likelier that Amenhotep was the victim and languished in captivity for more than eight months before he was restored to office by loyalist troops commanded by the viceroy of Kush (see Wente 1966). Certainly by Ramesses XI's Year 12, the effective governor of Thebes was Panehsy, the viceroy of Nubia; but seven years later he had been replaced by another military man, Herihor, who also professed loyalty to Ramesses XI. The pharaoh still reigned, but he was now merely a shadow-king: while the new era Herihor started at Thebes (dubbed “Renaissance” or “Repeating of Births”) acknowledged Ramesses XI's kingship, it also accentuated Herihor's independence—especially when the latter made himself high priest of Amun and, after Year 5 of the “Renaissance,” nominal pharaoh with a throne name, “High Priest of Amun,” that proclaimed a divine basis for Herihor's titular kingship. Even in the North, Ramesses XI became invisible in his last years, when power devolved onto a magnate named Smendes, ruling from Tanis (c.1081–1055 bce), whose family ties linked him with the Theban pontiffs. It was this man who would become the king of record, and founder of the twenty-first dynasty, when Ramesses XI finally died.
The end of the era is more indicative of where Egypt was going than of where it had been. For nearly five centuries the center had held firm in Egypt; but where the nascent eighteenth dynasty had reunified the country, the troubles of the late twentieth are a prelude to national disintegration. What happened is easier to document than to explain. Final appearances to the contrary, secular authority seems not to have succumbed to priestly power in the South: during the later New Kingdom, we find the upper clergy of Amun functioning increasingly as the pharaoh's chief administrators in Upper Egypt, but no high priest of Amun before Herihor can be convincingly taxed with aggrandizing himself at the crown's expense. Assuming that the leader of the Theban hierarchy was in fact rescued by representatives of the central government in the “war of the high priest,” nothing is certain either about the nature of the opposition or its aims. With the root causes of the unrest still unclear, and local separatism not traceable to developments within the clergy of Amun during the mid-twentieth dynasty, it may be that the breakup of the kingdom under Ramesses XI came primarily through the political maneuvering of the principals—army leaders and local “strong men” who took advantage of the pharaoh's weakness in troubled times to press their own claims to power. Herihor's regime in Upper Egypt only masqueraded under the legitimizing façade of priestly power, a practice later taken up by kings |of the twenty-first dynasty, who would also ground their right to rule in the authority of the “true” pharaoh, the god Amun-Re. Such ploys, however, do not explain the manifest decline that set in during the twentieth dynasty, and to that extent the end of the New Kingdom remains an enigma.
The inglorious end of the twentieth dynasty was also Egypt's demise as an imperial power. Although the viceroy Panehsy lost Upper Egypt to Herihor, he was able to take the Nubian province permanently out of the orbit of the northern Nile Valley. This loss, which accompanied the first splintering of the state, hardly proves that national identity and empire were one, because although imperialism is characteristic of the New Kingdom, it does not fully explain its success or failure. The regime's inner cohesion had not depended on the empire: the assumptions of pharaonic triumphalism were sustainable without actually being proved; and in the Near East, at least, Egypt's record of half-measures and its apparent haste in winding up its affairs suggest discomfort with the responsibilities of running an empire outside the Nile Valley. Arguably, the pharaohs' interest in outside areas always depended on how they affected Egypt. The shock of Hyksos and Kushite successes during the Second Intermediate Period had stimulated an unprecedentedly active foreign policy early in the eighteenth dynasty, leading to the conquest of Nubia and a widening involvement in the Near East that reached its peak during the nineteenth dynasty. Need, cost, and feasibility had played parts in shaping the foreign policy that had maintained the empire during the New Kingdom. These same factors may well be behind the seeming retreat from that policy, when Egypt abandoned its Near Eastern empire late in the twentieth dynasty and did not pursue the reconquest of Nubia. Egypt's fate—when it succumbed in succession to Nubia, Assyria, Persia, Macedon, and Rome—demonstrates its folly: not in failing to keep its empire but in playing, even as an imperialist, a minimal and essentially isolationist role, as if it could continue indefinitely to hold the outside world at arm's length.
Adams, William Y. Nubia: Corridor to Africa. Princeton, 1977. Chapters on New Kingdom relations with Nubia offer good if rather generalized coverage.Find this resource:
Aldred, Cyril. Akhenaten, King of Egypt. New York, 1988. This revised edition does a fine job of surveying the heretic king's reign and the main problems in the period, although many of the author's ideas (on the vexed issue of the heretic's alleged coregency with his father, or on the genealogy of royal females) are debatable.Find this resource:
Assmann, Jan. Egyptian Solar Religion in the New Kingdom: Re and Amun. Translated from the German by Anthony Alcock. London and New York, 1995. A densely written but stimulating examination of New Kingdom religious thought, particularly significant for monotheistic tendencies, translated and updated from the original German edition.Find this resource:
Edgerton, William F. The Thutmoside Succession. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 8. Chicago, 1933. Classic study that establishes the sequence of events surrounding the reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and her persecution by Thutmose III.Find this resource:
Edwards, I. E. S. ed. The Cambridge Ancient History: History of the Middle East and the Aegean Region c.1800–1000 B.C. vol. 2, 3d ed. Cambridge, 1973–1975. Chapters by various specialists present detailed surveys, with extensive bibliographies, that reflect scholarship current in the late 1960s.Find this resource:
Frandsen, Paul J. Egyptian Imperialism. In Power and Propaganda: A Symposium on Ancient Empires, edited by M. T. Larsen, pp. 167–190. Mesopotamia, 7. Copenhagen, 1979.Find this resource:
Gardiner, Alan H. Egypt of the Pharaohs: An Introduction. Oxford, 1961. Although somewhat out of date and focused on the written sources at the expense of archaeological or art-historical evidence, this survey of ancient Egyptian history offers lay readers a good introduction to both the subject and the bases for modern interpretations.Find this resource:
Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Translated from the French by Ian Shaw. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1992. More up-to-date and balanced in its use of source materials than Gardiner's book, but also less detailed, and including some controversial conclusions.Find this resource:
Habachi, Labib. Sixteen Studies on Lower Nubia. Cairo, 1981. Discusses facets and patterns of New Kingdom government in Nubia.Find this resource:
Janssen-Winkeln, Karl. Das Ende des Neuen Reiches. Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 119 (1992), 22–37.Find this resource:
Kemp, Barry J. Imperialism and Empire in New Kingdom Egypt. In Imperialism in the Ancient World: The Cambridge University Research Seminar in Ancient History, edited by P. D. A. Garnsey and C. Whittaker, pp. 7–58, 284–297. Cambridge, 1978.Find this resource:
Kemp, Barry J. Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization. London and New York, 1989. An unusually stimulating survey, ending with the later New Kingdom, by a scholar who is equally at home with archaeological and written evidence.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. The Basics of Egyptian Chronology in Relation to the Bronze Age. In High, Middle or Low, edited by Paul Astrom, vol. 1, pp. 37–55. Gothenburg, 1987.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II. Warminster, 1982.Find this resource:
Liverani, Mario. Prestige and Interest: International Relations in the Near East ca. 1600–1100 B.C. Padua, 1990. Superb in its comparative study of world views and their consequences for Egypt and its major neighbors in the Near East, although not all readers will share the author's pessimism on the way ideologies compromise the historical reliability of ancient documents.Find this resource:
Liverani, Mario. Three Amarna Essays. Monographs on the Ancient Near East, 1.5. Malibu, 1979. Several important studies of international relations in the Amarna age translated into English.Find this resource:
Murnane, William J. The Road to Kadesh: A Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. 2d rev. ed. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 42. Chicago, 1990. Examines the military and diplomatic background of Egyptian foreign policy in western Asia from the later eighteenth into the earlier nineteenth dynasty.Find this resource:
O'Connor, David. New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, 1152–664 BC. In Ancient Egypt: A Social History, Bruce Trigger, et al., pp. 183–278. Cambridge, 1983. This survey, with its own bibliography, was originally published in volume 1 of The Cambridge History of Africa (New York, 1975) and is especially valuable for its focus on institutions in New Kingdom Egypt.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. The Historiography of Ancient Egypt. In Egyptology and the Social Sciences, edited by Kent R. Weeks, pp. 3–20. Cairo, 1979.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Seven Studies. Toronto, 1967. Though written for specialists, these seven studies are a pleasure to read; and while they have become dated in certain respects, most of them are still models in demonstrating how historical materials may be hammered into history.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. Pharaonic King-Lists, Annals and Daybooks: A Contribution to the Study of Egyptian History. Mississauga, 1986. A fundamental study of the materials for ancient Egyptian historiography, particularly in the New Kingdom.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, 1992. This well-written survey, addressed to a popular audience, ably summarizes the course of Egypt's involvement in the Middle East from earliest times down to later antiquity.Find this resource:
Säve-Sòderbergh, Torgny. The Tomb of the Prince of Teh-khet, Amenemhet. Kush 11 (1963), 159–174. Reflects the survival of some native princes in New Kingdom Nubia.Find this resource:
Schulman, Alan R. Diplomatic Marriage in New Kingdom Egypt. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 38 (1979), 177–193.Find this resource:
Simpson, William Kelly. Heka-Nefer and the Dynastic Material from Tashka and Arminna. New Haven, 1963. Includes discussion of the career of a native Nubian prince who was contemporary with Tutankhamun.Find this resource:
Vandersleyen, Claude. Les guerres d'Amosis, fondateur de la XVIII dynastie. Monographies Reine Elisabeth, 1. Brussels, 1971. A detailed and tightly argued study of the achievements of the founder of the eighteenth dynasty, notable for its methodological rigor.Find this resource:
Vandersleyen, Claude. L'Égypte et al vallée du Nil, vol. 2, De la fin de l'Ancien Empire à la fin du Nouvel Empire. Paris, 1995. This excellent survey is especially valuable for its detailed coverage of major controversies, though the author's insistence on some strongly held views (most notably on the identification of some ancient place names) is more tendentious than useful.Find this resource:
Vernus, Pascal. Affaires et scandales sous les Ramsès: La Crise des valeurs dons l'Égypte du Nouvel Empire. Paris, 1993. Though aimed at a popular audience, this is a solidly documented book that attempts to interpret the high incidence of corruption in the late New Kingdom as a crisis of social values.Find this resource:
Weinstein, James. The Egyptian Empire in Palestine: A Reassessment. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 241 (1982), 1–28.Find this resource:
Wente, E. F. The Suppression of the High Priest Amenhotep. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 25 (1996), 73–87.Find this resource:
Wente, E. F., and C. C. Van Siclen III. A Chronology of the New Kingdom. In Studies in Honor of George H. Hughes, pp. 217–261. Chicago, 1976.Find this resource:
Eighteenth Dynasty to the Amarna Period
The eighteenth dynasty marks the beginning of a new period in Egyptian history. For over a century, control over Egypt had been divided between the Hyksos in the North and the Thebans in the South. Reunification under the Theban rule and the spread of Egyptian interests north to the Euphrates and south to the Fourth Cataract characterize this period, with the creation of an empire that embodied the political, economic, and ideological power of a united Egypt.
Reestablishment of a United Egypt (c. 1569–1525 bce)
Nebpehtyre Ahmose (r. 1569–1545 bce) was the son of the seventeenth dynasty king Senakhtenre Taʿo II and his sister-wife Ahhotep. Ahmose's immediate predecessor, Kamose, had dealt a decisive blow to the Hyksos rulers, delimiting but not destroying the political power of the Northern dynasty. The task of Egyptian reunification fell to the young king Ahmose. He mounted a campaign that led to the capture of the Hyksos palace city of Avaris in the eastern Delta, as well as the liberation of the ancient capital Memphis. Hyksos influence was rooted out with the three-year siege of the southwestern Palestinian fortress town of Sharuhen, opening the way for the north-eastern expansion of Egyptian political influence.
The autobiographies of two professional soldiers—Ahmose, son of Ibana, an admiral in the Egyptian navy, and Ahmose Pen-nekhbet—provide information concerning military expeditions up to the time of Thutmose II. Both men list the expeditions in which they participated and the rewards they received from different kings. Ahmose son of Ibana accompanied the king on the expedition to Lower Nubia that secured Egyptian dominion over that region. The territory between the First and Third Cataracts had been under the kingdom of Kush, with its capital Kerma at the Third Cataract. Although Kamose may have precipitated the reconquest of this territory with an earlier expedition, it was Ahmose who reincorporated Lower Nubia into the economic structure of the Egyptian state. An administrative center was established at the Second Cataract fort at Buhen, and a new post, viceroy of Nubia, was created (his title was “King's Son of the Southern Lands”). The last years of Ahmose's reign saw Egypt reassume control over the trade routes that had traditionally moved luxury goods between Asia and Africa.
The administrative structure was reformed to suit the growing complexity of the Egyptian state. The New Kingdom model accommodated functional rather than regional needs. Two viceroys, one for Upper Egypt and the other for Lower Egypt, were in charge of the domestic economy. The military administration was separate from that of temple personnel and property, and from that which governed Lower Nubia.
Monumental stone construction had been limited during the seventeenth dynasty by lack of access to the regional quarries. The reopening of the limestone quarry at Tura in the area near Memphis in Year 22 of Ahmose's reign marks the beginning of an acceleration in monumental construction throughout the country.
Three palaces are known for Ahmose. A Theban residence is documented in the texts. The archaeological remains of a palace city in Middle Egypt at Deir el-Ballas are also associated with this king. In addition, recent excavations at the site of Avaris (Tell ed-Dabʿa) have revealed a citadel, confirming a reoccupation of the site after the defeat of the Hyksos that lasted into the reign of Amenhotpe II. Remains of fresco decoration display bull-leaping motifs similar to those of Crete, indicating a close relationship with this Aegean culture.
Ahmose's young son and successor, Djeserkare Amenhotpe I (r. 1545–1525 bce), inherited a united Egypt, strong and at peace. The southern border for Egyptian authority had moved south to Sais, halfway between the Second and Third Cataracts, and the oases had been included in the Egyptian political sphere. Records from the reign of Amenhotpe I also provide an important astronomical fixed point in Egyptian chronology with a notation of the heliacal rising of the star Sirius for Year 9 of the reign.
Both Ahmose's mother and grandmother were alive when he ascended the throne. His grandmother, Tetisheri, was the daughter of a high official and shared a cult with her grandson at Abydos. His mother, Ahhotep, sister of her husband Senakhtenre Taʿo II, is praised in a hymn found at Karnak, describing her special care for the army. A period of regency, possibly entailing military command, has been hypothesized for this queen. Ahhotep survived into the reign of her grandson Amenhotpe I. A stela from Edfu records a cult commemorating the queen-mother Ahhotep, along with the seventeenth dynasty royal wife Sobekemsaf and the wife of Thutmose I. Ahmose's consort was his sister Ahmose Nefertari. The position of second priest of Amun was conferred on her; this title became transmuted to “God's Wife of Amun,” a position which not only carried great religious and even political prestige but also brought personal wealth in the form of an estate, household goods, and a staff. Ahmose Nefertari and her son Amenhotpe I were worshiped as the patrons of the Theban necropolis. Ahmose Nefertari survived her son, living into the reign of his successor. The wife of Amenhotpe I, his sister Meritamun, also carried the title “God's Wife of Amun,” inherited from her mother. Ahhotep, Ahmose Nefertari, and Meritamun were remembered in the cult of Amenhotpe I into the twenty-first dynasty. An unusual focus is placed on the royal women of this period; there is no evidence, however, to substantiate the oft-repeated assertion that the successor to the king was chosen according to the status of his mother.
Beginning of Empire (c.1525–1482 bce)
With no surviving children, Amenhotpe I was succeeded by a Aa-kheperkare Thutmose I (r. 1525–1516 bce). The connection of this king to the previous royal family is unknown, although it is often hypothesized that his wife Ahmose, in spite of lacking the title “Daughter of the King,” was the sister of Amenhotpe I.
The coronation of Thutmose I is recorded on two known stelae, on which the king is seen accompanied by his wife Ahmose and the dowager queen, Ahmose Nefertari. The conquest of Nubia was completed early in his reign, moving the border of Egyptian influence south to the Third Cataract, where Kerma, the capital of Kush, had been destroyed by Thutmose's forces. The administration of Nubia was restructured to include the participation of native princes, a step which furthered the Egyptianization of Nubia. Another expedition took Thutmose I as far northeast as the Carchemesh region, near the Euphrates, where a stela was erected. It was there that Egypt met its first conflict with the Hurrian power of Mitanni, with its center in northern Mesopotamia.
Just as the military expeditions of Thutmose I inaugurated a period of political expansion, an increasingly ambitious building program suggests expanding economic resources. This reign provided the first major renovation of the Middle Kingdom temple at Karnak, including the erection of two obelisks. An additional royal residence at Memphis, occupied by the crown prince Amenmese is also documented. During the reign of Thutmose I, the tomb and the funerary temple were separated for the first time, creating a division between the tombs of the Valley of the Kings and the funerary temples, which were placed just beyond cultivated ground on the western bank of the Nile River. The establishment of the royal necropolis required the foundation of the workers' village at Deir el-Medina.
Crown Prince Amenmese predeceased the king, and the throne passed to Aa-kheperenre Thutmose II (r. 1516–1504 bce), son of a secondary wife, Mutnefert. He undertook only one major military expedition, in his first year, to quell a minor uprising in Lower Nubia. The autobiography of the architect and official Ineni tells of construction projects under Amenhotpe I and Thutmose I. It also records the death of Thutmose II and the coronation of Men-kheperre Thutmose III (r. 1504–1452 bce), son of a minor wife named Isis. The royal sister and wife Hatshepsut, the regent for the boy-king, ascended the throne as coregent under the name Maatkare Khenemamun Hatshepsut (r. 1502–1482 bce) no later than Year 7 of the reign of Thutmose III.
Hatshepsut's prestige had been established during the reign of her father Thutmose I, when she succeeded to the position of “God's Wife of Amun” after the sister-wife of Amenhotpe I. The overseer of the estate of the “God's Wife” and overseer of construction, Senmut, became a central figure in her reign, documented by numerous statues and two tombs. Thutmose III acted, however, in civil matters in his own name during this period. On Hatshepsut's ascent to the throne, the office of “God's Wife” was passed on to her daughter Neferure.
A journey to Punt to acquire exotic goods, such as myrrh, for the temple of Amun at Karnak is recorded in Hatshepsut's funerary temple at Deir el-Bahri, where an illustrated text was found telling of Hatshepsut's birth as the natural child of the Theban god Amun. The reliefs of Deir el-Bahri were defaced by Thutmose III, as were the other monuments of this queen. Occurring late in his reign, this usurpation appears to be less an act of hatred than of political expediency, with the intention of reinforcing the claims of his own lineage.
Expansion into the Levant (1482–1419 bce)
At the death of Hatshepsut, Thutmose III embarked on a military career that has earned him the reputation of an Egyptian emperor. A narrative inscribed around the bark chapel of Karnak describes sixteen campaigns during his regnal Years 22 to 42. An Egyptian presence had been established in southern Palestine during the early part of the dynasty, but through the years, internal alliances with ties to the northern Mesopotamian power Mitanni had challenged Egypt's hold over this area. The expeditions of Thutmose III were focused on three goals: first, it was important to bring the strategically significant Levant back into the Egyptian political and economic sphere; second, Egyptian access to the coast and its ports was to be secured; and finally, the influence of Mitanni was to be curtailed.
The first stage included the Battle of Megiddo, described in the texts with emphasis on the strategic brilliance of the king. By the sixth campaign, Thutmose had access to a Syrian port and was able to arrive by sea. At the end of this expedition, he returned to Egypt with thirty-six sons of local rulers, who were to be brought up at court. Direct confrontation with Mitanni is recorded from Year 33, when Egyptian forces crossed the Euphrates by using specially constructed riverboats hauled overland. Pillaging the area south of Carchemesh, Thutmose III set up a stela alongside that of his grandfather and then returned south, hunting elephants at Niy, as had Thutmose I. His remaining expeditions, undertaken between Years 34 and 42, were attempts to maintain the political and territorial gains made earlier in the reign. Rebellions were repeatedly put down as the Levantine city-states sought renewed alliance with Mitanni. It is at this time that a formalization of Egyptian political control can be discerned, with the establishment of garrisons, regulated tax collection, and local rulers functioning as Egyptian vassals. For Egypt, the economic rewards of political control included a levy on the population that could take the form of significant amounts of silver, lapis lazuli, a bronze alloy called “Asiatic copper,” opium, wine, and ornamental metalwork, as well as the requisite timber for boat-building.
Although Nubia no longer required military attention, the inauguration of a cult of Amun at Gebel Barkal, at the Fourth Cataract, during the last years of this reign emphasized the ongoing acculturation of Nubia. Thutmose III was succeeded by his son and coregent, Aa-kheperure Amenhotpe II (r. 1454–1419 bce). Son of the royal consort Merytre Hatshepsut, Amenhotpe may have been born in Memphis; one inscription records his early years there and praises his skill with horses.
Amenhotpe II inherited a vacillating dominion over Syria-Palestine. His first campaign involved a clash with Mitanni at Kadesh, one of the most powerful city-states of the central Levant, resulting in the capture and later execution of seven local rulers. Facing insurrection and disloyalty throughout the territory, Amenhotpe mounted another campaign four years later which ended in a massive deportation of the population, with the Egyptians using terror tactics to maintain rule. At that point, the burgeoning Hittite coalition began to negotiate alliances with Mitannian vassal states. The political competition from the Hittites appears to have encouraged a peace settlement between Mitanni and Egypt. A treaty came into effect sometime after Amenhotpe II's Year 9, when a Mitanni emissary arrived in Egypt with tribute.
Amenhotpe II was buried in the Valley of the Kings, like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. His tomb was later used as a cachette for royal mummies (which were discovered there in the nineteenth century).
The royal women of the families of the Thutmose III and Amenhotpe II are not as visible in the historical record as their predecessors. The title “God's Wife of Amun” was initially passed on, according to custom, to the daughter of Thutmose III, Meritamun. Later in his reign, however, it was borne by his mother, Isis. Two successive royal mothers—Meritre Hatsheput (mother of Amenhotpe II) and Tia (mother of Thutmose IV)—succeeded to the title, which then disappears from the documentation, not to recur until the nineteenth dynasty. Both these women had nonroyal backgrounds and are better known as king's mothers than as royal wives. One tomb was found with the burials of three otherwise undocumented wives of Thutmose III; their names suggest foreign origin.
Peace and Prosperity (c. 1419–1372 bce)
Amenhotpe II was succeeded by Men-kheprure Thutmose IV (r. 1419–1410 bce), son of the royal wife Tia. In the inscription on the Sphinx Stela, Thutmose tells of a dream in which the sphinx, manifest as the sun god Re-Horakhty, appeared to the young prince and asked him to clear away the sand covering the monument. Having done this, the prince was rewarded with the kingship. The evidence for Thutmose IV's involvement in the Near East suggests military activity directed against Mitanni vassals. This appears to have led to the renewal of the treaty made under Amenhotpe II.
Nebmaatre Amenhotpe III (r. 1410–1372 bce) was the son of his predecessor and a minor royal wife, Mutemwia. During the first years of his reign he married Tiye, the daughter of an important chariot officer, Yuya, and his wife Tuya. This couple is known to have had family ties, as well as extensive holdings, in the region of Akhurim. Their rich burial in the Valley of the Kings is evidence of the extensive influence of their daughter Tiye. The marriage between Tiye and Amenhotpe is recorded on one of the five commemorative scarabs issued to celebrate outstanding events of the reign.
Egypt was at the peak of its power under Amenhotpe III, with little evidence of conflict either to the north or the south. International contacts spread the name of this king as far away as Mycenae, Yemen, and Assur. The Akkadian diplomatic correspondence discovered at Amarna reveals the close ties between this king and his former Mitanni foes. The king married two Mittanni princesses, Giluhepa and Taduhepa, the former commemorated with a scarab inscription. Amenhotpe III was not the first king, however, to wed a royal woman from Mittanni; the correspondence speaks of the marriage of an earlier Egyptian king, generally identified as Thutmose IV, to a princess of that nation.
This period of peace and prosperity encouraged extensive construction. At Thebes, Luxor was expanded with a colonnade and hypostyle hall. A copy of the divine-birth legend, found earlier for Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri, was reworked for Amenhotpe III in this temple. The Mut temple at Karnak was furnished with about six hundred statues of Sakhmet, possibly erected in an attempt to alleviate the ill health of the king. A palace of enormous proportions was built on the western bank of the Nile, at a site known as Malqata, as was the largest of the funerary temples, of which only the two so-called Colossi of Memnon still stand.
The construction work of this king was led by a man known as Amenhotep, son of Hapu, who, like Senmut before him, was the overseer of the estate of a royal daughter. Later deified, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, gained a reputation as one of the sages of ancient Egypt and was the object of a cult that lasted long into the Greco-Roman period.
Tia, “God's Wife of Amun” and mother of Thutmose IV, was the most important woman of that reign. Several wives are known for Thutmose IV—Iaret, Nefertiry, and Mutemwia; in addition, there is evidence that he married a princess of Mitanni. Of these women only one, Iaret, was of royal birth. Titled both “Daughter” and “Sister” of the king, she may have been the daughter of Amenhotpe II or, less likely, of Thutmose himself. Nefertiry appears to have been the senior wife of this king.
The mother of Amenhotpe III, Mutemwia, does not appear in monuments from the reign of her husband and thus should be regarded a minor wife. The major female figure of this reign is undoubtedly the great royal wife Tiye. Closely linked to her husband and later to her son Amenhotpe IV (Akhenaten), Tiye is given unprecedented prominence in the monuments, appearing in one tomb representation as the manifestation of the goddess of truth Maat. Amenhotpe III also had several daughters; two of them, Satamun and Isis, were titled “Royal Wife” during his reign, which might indicate that they were married to their father.
The political configuration of Egypt was transformed during this time—from one in which regional loyalities were decisive to one focused on the separate hierarchies of the domestic government, the military organization, and the temple administration. The national economy was managed by the two viziers, who ranked directly under the king. The spoils of war, marginally exploited as payment for the army, benefited the temples in the form of royal offerings, consisting of prisoners of war, livestock, and precious objects. In addition, a significant portion of the arable land was passing into the administrative system of the temples. This land, worked by tenant farmers, provided the base of the temple economy. The extent to which the economic input from Nubia, primarily in the form of gold, was recycled in local administrative costs or fed into the national economy, is a subject of some debate. This distribution of the control of wealth created the predisposition for alternative sources of political power, found during this period and later in the army and the temple, as well as in the national government.
Thebes, as the city of origin of the dynasty, and the site of the expanding cult of Amun, was a natural center of political influence and economic wealth. Memphis, however, with its ancient cult of Ptah and its strategically important military harbor and arms manufacture, continued to function as the Northern residence, evidenced early in the dynasty by the presence of the crown prince. Heliopolis, the traditional theological center of Egypt, was also an important recipient of donations from the king, although it never became a political center.
The Egypt of the late eighteenth dynasty incorporated into its political and economic sphere the now Egyptianized Nubia, extending to the Fourth Cataract, as well as the conglomerate of the Levantine city-states. This extension of Egyptian influence not only facilitated the export of Egyptian culture but also opened the country up to the outside. Nubians had resided in Egypt since the Old Kingdom and had been traditionally employed in the Egyptian army as mercenaries. The cultural border between Egypt and Palestine—in the area of the eastern Delta and southern Palestine—had always allowed cross-cultural contact, but with the eighteenth dynasty this intensified. The most immediate point of contact was the military, resulting in the incorporation of a significant West Semitic military vocabulary into ancient Egyptian. Innovations in warfare, such as the chariot and the composite bow, had already been adopted by the Egyptian military from the Hyksos forces.
A Canaanite population entered Egypt as prisoners of war and later as refugees. Large numbers of these became agricultural workers. Their descendants, however, were able to rise in the hierarchy and later attained high-ranking positions. Intermarriage was common, with Hurrian and Canaanite names occurring in Egyptian genealogies. A northern suburb of Memphis was the site of a Canaanite community, established around temples of Ba'al and Astarte. Canaanite merchants were also trading along the Nile.
Near Eastern gods entered the Egyptian pantheon at this time; besides Ba'al and Astarte, Anat and Reshef took on Egyptian identities. A statue of Ishtar was requested by Amenhotpe III from his Mitannian brother-in-law, in hopes of affecting a cure for an unspecified illness.
The wealth imported into Egypt facilitated advances in art and architecture. The expansion of the temple of Karnak, initiated by Thutmose I and carried on throughout the dynasty, the creation of a temple at Luxor by Amenhotpe III, and the planning of the royal tombs and western bank temples are examples of both an economic and an ideological flowering that centered on the close association of the king with a solar creator. In literature, the king is presented as a model of wisdom, strength, and courage, in a form of historical narrative termed Königsnovelle.
This period is also known for the decoration of the private tombs of the Theban necropolis. Although their scenes are stereotypic ones of agriculture, manufacture, banquets, and so forth, they represent a high point in Egyptian painting and relief carving. In addition, the textual descriptions of the owners contribute information concerning the structure of the government. The tomb of Rekhmire, vizier under Thutmose III, preserves a classic text describing the appointment and duties of that office.
The status of women, royal and aristocratic, is also reflected in the documentation. The royal women were incorporated into the ideological imagery of the kingship, particularly as it was linked to the cult of Amun. As “God's Wife of Amun,” the royal daughter-wife of the early part of the dynasty acquired an independent platform that may have provided the foundation for Hatshepsut's political success. This was countermanded during the reign of Thutmose III, when the title was passed on to his mother, whose status was dependent on that of her son. By the end of the dynasty, a greater emphasis on solar theology intensified the iconographic identification between the royal women and the goddess Hathor. This development is contemporary with evidence for father-daughter marriages, which may have been motivated by the father-daughter relationship between the sun god Re and Hathor.
The royal women owned estates, which provided a source of income. A special residence for royal women and their households was founded by Thutmose III in the Faiyum at Medinet el-Ghurab. Functioning as a self-contained settlement, the residence is known to have specialized in the production of cloth. A number of finds relating to the royal women, such as the well-known head of Tiye (now in Berlin), come from this site, which has been described in relationship to the cortège of 317 attendants whom the Mitannian princess Giluhepa brought with her. Indeed, some scholars see the elaborate harem settlement of the eighteenth dynasty as the result of the influence of royal wives from the Near East.
The women of the aristocracy were commonly titled “Mistress of the House,” sometimes with the addition of a title indicating a relationship to the royal family, such as “Royal Nurse.” The area of activity for these women had diminished in comparison to their Middle Kingdom counterparts, who could be actively involved in the temple cults as priestesses. The temple activity of the women of New Kingdom nobility was confined to the role of singer in the temple, suggesting a life that was more restricted than earlier in Egyptian history.
Bietak, Manfred. “Avaris,” the Capital of the Hyksos: Recent Excavations at Tell ed-Dabʿa. London, 1996. A review of the results of the excavation of this site and a discussion of their significance.Find this resource:
Bryan, Betsy M. The Reign of Thutmose IV. Baltimore and London, 1991. A commentary and interpretation of the sources from his reign.Find this resource:
Dorman, Peter F. The Monuments of Senenmut. London, 1988. A collection of the monuments of the overseer of the estates of Hatshepsut; includes a historical commentary.Find this resource:
Grimal, Nicolas. A History of Ancient Egypt. Translated by Ian Shaw, Oxford, 1992.Find this resource:
Kozloff, Arielle P., and Betsy M. Bryan, Egypt's Dazzling Sun: Amenhotep III and His World. Cleveland, 1992. A collection of essays on different topics relating to this reign, accompanying a catalogue of an exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art.Find this resource:
Lacovara, Peter. The New Kingdom Royal City. Studies in Egyptology. London, 1997. Treats the domestic architecture of the palace city and discusses the architecture of the harem town.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. The Concept of Kingship during the Eighteenth Dynasty. In Ancient Egyptian Kingship, edited by David O'Connor and David P. Silverman, pp. 157–184. Leiden, 1995.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, 1992.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. History and Chronology of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt: Seven Studies. Toronto, 1967.Find this resource:
Robins, Gay. The God's Wife of Amun in the 18th Dynasty in Egypt. In Images of Women in Antiquity, edited by A. Cameron and A. Kuhrt, pp. 65–78. London and Canberra, 1983.Find this resource:
Robins, Gay. Women in Ancient Egypt. London, 1993. A good review of the role of women.Find this resource:
Smith, Stuart Tyson. Askut in Nubia: The Economics and Ideology of Egyptian Imperialism in the Second Millenium b.c. Studies in Egyptology. London, 1995. Interprets the excavation results from the Second Cataract fort and relates it to different models for imperialism.Find this resource:
Tyldesley, Joyce. Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh. London, 1996. A review of the sources and speculations concerning this female pharaoh.Find this resource:
Amarna Period and the End of the Eighteenth Dynasty
The death of Amenhotpe III in his regnal Year 39 (c. 1372 bce) ushered in a brief but remarkable era in Egyptian history, now named after the modern designation (Tell el-Amarna) for the site of the new capital built by Amenhotpe's son and successor, the so-called heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten. The details of this period are still much debated among Egyptologists, partly because the quantity and character of the evidence prompt many more questions than can be answered with confidence, if at all, and partly because the enigmatic figure who stands at the center of this epoch has elicited such an extraordinary range of characterizations—ranging from the first monotheist, or even the first individual, in history, to religious reformer, to ruthless, determined, narrow-minded despot. Complicating the historian's work still further is the fact that the rulers of the early nineteenth dynasty relegated all of the Amarna rulers between Amenhotpe III and Horemheb to historical oblivion, leaving only whispers in the later record.
Amenhotpe IV (r. 1372–1355 bce) was the eldest surviving son of Amenhotpe III, his elder brother Thutmose having predeceased their father. Some scholars have argued for a co-regency between father and son, ranging anywhere from a few months to as long as twelve years, but the evidence is not persuasive. A letter from King Tushratta of Mitanni, a frequent correspondent with and ally of the Egyptian royal family, certainly views Amenhotpe IV as having ascended the throne at his father's demise. As is not unusual for the eighteenth dynasty, there is only one record of this Prince Amenhotpe during his father's lifetime. Nor would his actions at the outset of his reign have given much indication of the radical departures that lay ahead. At his accession, he adopted as his throne-name Nefer-kheperure (“perfect are the forms of Re”), with the additional epithet Waenre (“The Chosen One of Re”). Moreover, he participated in the cults of such traditional deities as the state/imperial god Amun-Re and the hawk-headed solar deity Re-Horakhty (“Re-Horus of the horizon”), as well as continuing his father's various building projects, notably at Karnak, the cult center of Amun-Re. Things soon began to change, however.
As early as his second regnal year, Amenhotpe IV decided, for reasons that remain unclear, to celebrate the sed-festival, a royal reinvigoration ceremony more typically undertaken after thirty years on the throne and every three years or so thereafter. Amenhotpe III had celebrated it three times and was gearing up for yet another when death intervened. It may be that Amenhotpe IV saw this as a way of emphasizing that he was the divine continuation of his equally divine parent, but the matter remains obscure. Apparently in connection with the sed-festival, the new king ordered the construction of a complex of four temples on the east side of Karnak dedicated to a solar deity called “the Aten” (or simply “Aten”), the solar disk (or, as it is sometimes depicted in relief, the solar orb). These structures were put up rapidly with sandstone building blocks (modern talatat) cut to a size that could be easily carried on the shoulder of a laborer. (They proved just as easily dismantled when Horemheb reused them in a nearby monument of his own; fortunately, some forty-five thousand of these blocks survive and have been used to reconstruct the decorations of the Gem-pa-Aten temple and its associated shrines.) Other temples to the Aten were begun elsewhere in Egypt and in Nubia. Remarkably, the reconstructed scenes indicate that in one of the Aten-temples, Amenhotpe's chief wife, Nefertiti, is the sole officiant before the god, signaling her prominence in the king's innovations.
At some point during his fourth regnal year, Amenhotpe began construction of a new capital and cult center exclusively for the Aten at a tract of about 21 square miles along the eastern bank of the Nile in Middle Egypt. Work began the following year, and the king visited the site at least once to inspect the progress. In Year 6, at about the same time as the king, the royal family, and court moved to the still unfinished city, named Akhetaten (“horizon of the Aten”), the monarch changed his birth name, Amenhotpe (“may Amun be content”) to Akhenaten (“one who is serviceable to the Aten”). The boundary stelae carved at the new capital state that the Aten had chosen the site, the place of his first dawning, a place untouched by any other cult. Before leaving to take up permanent residence in Akhetaten, the king took the radical step of proscribing the worship of Amun, a prohibition that was soon extended to all of the traditional gods and goddesses of Egypt. In due course, the old temples were closed, their income and properties likely reassigned. Henceforth there were to be no other gods worshiped in Egypt apart from the solar disk and his son, Akhenaten. So determined was the king to eliminate every vestige of the older gods that he assigned workmen to carve out their names—even from his own father's birth-name—wherever they found them inscribed; in addition, words or concepts, such as “mother” or maat (“order, justice, truth”), had to be written phonetically rather than with hieroglyphics that might suggest the name of some deity. Akhenaten seems rarely if ever to have left the confines of the new capital thereafter. The balance of his seventeen-year reign was devoted to elaborating the theology and practices of the cult of the Aten and to the reaffirming the central role of the pharaoh.
In establishing the exclusive worship of the Aten, Akhenaten built on older forms and recently emergent developments. From an early point in the eighteenth dynasty, the growing dominance of the various aspects of the sun god is evident. The Upper Egyptian fertility god Amun (“the Hidden One”) was linked more and more with the solar god Re, yielding in time Amun-Re, a solar deity whose universality lent itself to the imperial expansion under the Thutmosids. The conqueror-pharaohs—Thutmose I, Thutmose III, and Amenhotpe II—gave great donations to the temples out of the proceeds of empire-building in gratitude for the empire that extended from Upper Nubia in the south well into north-central Syria. In the process, the priesthood of Amun-Re in particular gained a great deal of wealth and influence. Though they never actually controlled the monarchy, the priests gained influence over the succession to the throne and therefore the legitimization of kings. They also gained a good deal of authority over the temples of all the other deities. Akhenaten thus attempted to redirect the flow of power.
When Akhenaten had fully articulated his vision, he had become a king, supported by the military caste and a host of parvenus, before whom all bowed and scraped and on whom all attention was focused. Akhenaten presented himself as the son of the Aten; this was not entirely novel, because every king since the mid-fourth dynasty had been styled “Son of Re.” But there was a major difference here: Akhenaten and his queen worshiped the Aten, and the rest of Egypt had to come to the father by way of the son. Akhenaten, the androgynous father and mother of all mankind, was the highest priest of the solar disk and was himself the center of the cult for all Egyptians; there was a high priest of Nefer-kheperure—the chief priest of the cult of the living king. Nefertiti was clearly part of this monarchical focus, for we find her name in a cartouche, reminiscent of the king's throne name: Nefer-neferuaten (“perfect is the beauty of the Aten”).
Akhenaten intensified his focus on the monarchy by conceiving of the Aten as a king. This too was not exactly new; Amun-Re had long been called “the king of the gods.” But now the Aten was a god who celebrated sed-festivals. Moreover, Akhenaten devised for his god a new “didactic” name cast within two cartouches. Early in the reign, this name was “(1) The Living One, Re-Horus of the Horizon, Who Rejoices in the Horizon (2) in His Name ‘Light Which Is from the Disk.’ ” Re and Horus, both closely associated with the solar and royal traditions, and Shu, a god of air and light, remained acceptable for the moment. In his regnal Year 9, Akhenaten altered the god's name to read “(1) The Living One, Ruler of the Horizons, who Rejoices in the Horizon (2) in his Name ‘Re, the Father who Comes (Forth) from the Disk,’” thus eliminating even Horus and Shu.
The Aten was not an invention of Akhenaten. The name is known quite early in Egyptian religious history, although it had always taken a minor place in the pantheon. For reasons that remain unclear, Akhenaten's grandfather, Thutmose IV, had given some special attention to this deity, and Amenhotpe III had done likewise, going so far as to call himself “the Dazzling Sun Disk.” Despite considerable speculation, it is not known how or why Akhenaten came to regard the Aten as the only god. That he refers to the Aten as “the Sole One” or “the Unique One” is not new either; in the previous reign, such epithets had been applied to Amun-Re, without any connotation of exclusivity. A major innovation, in terms of the classical Egyptian representations of the gods, is the rapid transformation of the image of the Aten as a hawk-headed deity with a human body to the dominating image of the Aten as the solar disk (or orb) from which rays emanate. The only concession to lingering anthropomorphic notions is the hands at the ends of those rays which hold the sign of life (ankh) to the nostrils of the king, his wife, and their children. In the great hymn to the Aten preserved in the Amarna tomb intended for Ay, the deity is far away, yet felt by humans as the author of all things in this world, providing his bounty for all, regardless of region, skin color, or language. But the only one who truly “knows” the Aten is his son, Akhenaten. Scholars have applied a number of terms to Akhenaten's religion—henotheism, monotheism, monolatry, etc.—but none quite gets at the essence of this dyarchy of heavenly and earthly god-rulers, lacking a mythology and the traditional Egyptian view of the afterlife. Akhenaten emphasized maat, calling himself “One who Lives on Maat,” thus linking his kingship and that of the Aten in terms of cosmic, political, and social order.
One of the radical departures in Akhenaten's religion comes in the design of the temples for the Aten, notably but not exclusively “the House of the Aten in Akhetaten.” The main area for cultic activities—the centerpiece being huge piles of offerings on a multitude of subsidiary altars—was a large court open to the sky, reminiscent of the main feature of the solar temples built by several kings of the fifth dynasty. The king and his entourage spent a great deal of time on these practices. Indeed, a surviving letter from the king of Assyria reproaches Akhenaten for requiring the Assyrian ambassadors to stand out in the broiling sun during the seemingly endless rites; that might be fine for the king of Egypt and his people, but not for mere mortals like the Assyrian ambassadors.
Little can be said about the domestic features of Akhenaten's reign. His authority probably carried throughout the country, although there may well have been some private resistance. The day-to-day operation of the country outside the somewhat rarefied atmosphere of Akhetaten probably continued along traditional bureaucratic lines, although the details are mostly missing. We know a number of his officials, many of whom appear to be new to royal administration. Most of the officials seem to be native Egyptians, but there are some foreigners, notably the vizier (chief minister) for the northern part of the country, a certain Aper-El, with a Semitic-sounding name, whose tomb has been discovered at Saqqara. His colleague in the vizierate was Nakht, who had a fine villa and tomb at Amarna. Of considerable influence was Ay, who may have been Akhenaten's maternal uncle. The military commanders Maya and Ramose stand out, as does the chief of police, Mahu. Among the most important individuals at Amarna, of course, were the various priests who assisted Akhenaten in the year-round celebrations of the cult.
Because of a cache of cuneiform diplomatic correspondence found at Amarna (known as the Amarna Letters), the outline of Egypt's relations with its foreign satellites and neighbors in southwestern Asia can be discerned. It is often asserted that Akhenaten neglected, and thereby seriously weakened, the Egyptian Empire and its prestige. This is probably an overstatement. In fact, the aggressive policies of the earlier eighteenth dynasty had largely ended with Amenhotpe II. Nubia was a somewhat different matter, and when needed, force was applied, even under Akhenaten. Until the early fourteenth century bce, the major power in southwestern Asia was the Hurrian/Indo-European kingdom of Mitanni, situated in northwestern Mesopotamia and northeastern Syria. Thutmose III and Amenhotpe II had successfully contested northern Syria with the Mitanni, but neither Thutmose IV nor Amenhotpe III engaged in any extensive military campaigning there, both preferring an Asian policy based on diplomacy—notably, diplomatic marriages and judicious applications of gold—and, as far as the Syrian vassals were concerned, a cautious policy of setting one against the other was followed, thereby weakening any potential for dangerous alliances. By the time that Akhenaten had ascended the Egyptian throne, however, the situation in northern Syria was beginning to change. A new king, Shuppiluliumas I, had managed to bring coherence back to the Hittite state and had ambitions in Syria. He defeated and effectively neutralized the Mitanni kingdom—something later Hittite kings would have reason to regret—and became a force to reckon with in Syria. Some of Egypt's more northerly vassals allied themselves with Shuppiluliumas, concluding that the closer power was the more dangerous one. Akhenaten appears to have been angered by this turn of events, but he was apparently not prepared to employ anything stronger than words. The Hittite power was extended to central Syria, but not beyond. A serious plague had hit the Near East and may well have made further aggression out of the question for all concerned, at least temporarily.
In the last years before Akhenaten's death in his regnal Year 17, there were some shifts in alignment within the royal family. The Great King's Wife, Nefer-neferwaten Nefertiti, who had produced six daughters and had been a major force in Akhenaten's reign, may have served as a coregent with the king, although some have detected a waning of her influence and presence. Her throne name appears in conjunction with a relief showing Akhenaten and another king. Akhenaten had other favorite wives, notably the somewhat mysterious Kiya, who appears to have predeceased him. It also seems that in this last period the king's eldest daughter, Merytaten, had taken over as the primary female figure in Akhetaten. She had married a certain Smenkhkare, and it is likely that he served, if briefly, as a coregent with Akhenaten. Whether he survived the king and had an independent reign of about three years defies demonstration. His parentage is not known, but there has been scholarly speculation that he was Akhenaten's elder son by Kiya. There is now some reason to suppose that he was the brother of his successor, Tutankhamun.
The eight- or nine-year-old successor to Akhenaten, and/or Smenkhkare, originally had been named Tutankhaten (“living image of the Aten”); he was married—when is not clear—to the third daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, Ankhesenpaaten (“she lives for the Aten”). Exactly who was in charge at this critical point is unknown, but it seems likely that Ay played the dominant role. For perhaps as long as three years, Tutankhaten reigned from Akhetaten, but it is clear that negotiations were already under way—perhaps already begun by Smenkhkare and Merytaten—to return to Thebes and reestablish the traditional divinities and their temples. The new king's name was changed to Tutankhamun (“living image of Amun”), and that of his wife to Ankhesenamun (“she lives for Amun”). The power brokers formulated in the king's name a stela breaking with the Amarna “heresy” and restoring traditional religious observances. The text portrays an Egypt before Tutankhamun that had fallen into ruin, the temples desolate, and the armies unsuccessful in Syria—a place the gods ignored. All of that was now reversed by the acts of the new king. Unexpectedly, Tutankhamun died after a reign of approximately ten years, leaving no heir. He was buried in a rather small tomb in the Valley of the Kings, perhaps not intended for him originally. Its discovery with most of its treasures intact, by Howard Carter in 1922, caused a sensation.
An astonishing letter has survived from Ankhesenamun to Shuppiluliumas, soliciting a husband for the queen from among the Hittite princes. Understandably surprised and not a little suspicious of the Egyptians' game, Shuppiluliumas sent agents to discover whether or not Egypt was without a king; convinced finally that this new power amalgam was possible, he sent one of his sons, who appears to have been murdered (by persons unknown) on the way, leading to a long chain of hostility between Egypt and Hatti. The events that brought the elderly Ay to the throne cannot be reconstructed, but clearly there was a powerful alliance between this long-time supporter of the royal family and General Horemheb. Ay (throne-name, Kheper-kheperure, “the forms of Re have come into being”) reigned for only about three years. He was succeeded on the throne by Horemheb (throne-name, Djeser-kheperure, “sacred are the forms of Re”), who had the support of both the army and the priesthood of Amun.
Horemheb's reign of about twenty-seven years allowed for a considerable period in which to institutionalize the restoration of the traditional order. He had risen to the top of the military under Tutankhamun, without connections to Akhenaten, although at some point he was married to a woman named Mutnodjmet, who may have been Nefertiti's sister. The primary emphasis of his reign was the restoration of order and the curtailing of corruption, to which ends he set up a new judicial apparatus. Although he seems to have been unable to alter the boundary between the Egyptian and Hittite spheres of influence, it remained comparatively steady during his reign. Horemheb reorganized the army to enhance its effectiveness. In keeping with his support of Amun and the old order, he became a prolific builder of temples, especially at Karnak; he built new structures, usurped some of Tutankhamun's monuments, and almost totally dismantled Akhenaten's Theban temples. Seeing that he was going to die without an heir, Horemheb sought to maintain the stability and military dominance he had established by naming as his successor a general from the Nile Delta, a certain Piramessu, who became Ramesses I, the first king of the nineteenth dynasty. When Horemheb died, he was buried in the Valley of the Kings (tomb 57). So effective were his efforts that his nineteenth dynasty successors regarded him as the first legitimate ruler after Amenhotpe III. Their own place in the sun, of course, they owed to him as well.
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This dynasty comprised eight rulers of Egypt (seven kings and one queen-regnant). It stemmed from a military family that appears to have originated from the eastern Nile Delta at Avaris, city of the god Seth. Avaris had previously reached prominence in the Middle Kingdom as a summer capital (called Ro-waty) for the twelfth and thirteenth dynasties (twentieth to sixteenth centuries bce) and later, as Avaris, for the foreign Hyksos kings of the fifteenth dynasty.
At the end of the eighteenth dynasty, King Horemheb had no son and heir to succeed him on the Egyptian throne; but through the years he came to value the abilities of a close military colleague, Piramesse, the son of a troop-commander Sety, from the district of Avaris. Under his patronage, Piramesse rose to the highest offices in Egypt (e.g., vizier) before finally being declared his deputy and heir by Horemheb. This no doubt led Horemheb to have new work done at the temple of Seth at Avaris (cf. Bietak 1986, p. 270 and pl. 38a), and to favor his close colleague with a pair of statues in the Karnak temple of Amun in Thebes (the inscriptions are translated in Davies 1995, pp. 89–90).
At Horemheb's death, Piramesse duly took the throne as king Menpehtyre Ramesses (I), deliberately modeling his royal style on that of Nebpehtyre Ahmose I, as if he were to be the founder of a new eighteenth dynasty, a practice initially followed by his son and grandson (Kitchen 1979, pp. 383–384). His son and heir, Sety, lost no time in leading Egypt's troops into Canaan, but little else had been achieved when Ramesses I died in his second year, after perhaps only sixteen months' reign. It was his energetic son, Sety I, who threw himself unreservedly into the task of restoring the glory of Egypt at home and abroad, seeking even to surpass the deeds and works of the formidable eighteenth dynasty in both war and peace.
In war, Sety I sought to impose his authority on the Levant without delay. Year 1 (as depicted in scenes at Karnak) saw him sweeping along the Sinai coast road to Gaza, destroying Shasu dissidents on the way and near Gaza. It is clear that he went through Canaan all the way to Galilee: a stela of his Year 1 at Beth-Shan reports his quelling rebels there and at Hammath and nearby Yenoam. Being late in the year, this probably happened on Sety's return from the north, most likely from Phoenicia. The capture of Yenoam is shown in the Karnak scenes (middle register, east side) that culminate in the submission of “the chiefs of Lebanon,” so it is tempting to link this register with the events of Year 1 of the Beth-Shan stela. At Tyre was found part of a stela of Sety I, indicating the Egyptian presence there in Year 1 or later. East of Lake Galilee, another stela of Sety I from Tell es-Shihab indicates a move to secure the inland routes up to Egypt's province of Upe in southern Syria, including Damascus.
Having set his existing Levantine territories in order, Sety then moved (in Year 2 or possibly later) to recover the area lost to the Hittites by Akhenaten some sixty years before. He subdued the mountainous kingdom of Amurru (just behind the Phoenician coast) and marched inland to seize Kadesh, where he set up a victory stela. However, since the Hittites would not be prepared to give these up, we may infer that the Hittite king Muwatallis II marched south next season to recover control of Amurru and Kadesh. By now (if we read the west-side registers at Karnak from top to bottom), probably in Year 3 or later, Sety had to deal with a new threat to Egypt: from Libya on her west flank, for the first time in two hundred years. That done, he then returned north (Year 4 or later) to contest the control of central Syria with the Hittites. Significantly, his Karnak war scenes for this conflict include no specific conquests whatsoever—no names of towns conquered. From a later allusion in the Hittite treaty of Ramesses II, it is clear that both sides recognized that neither could oust the other, so a treaty was signed between the two powers: the Hittites would keep Amurru and Kadesh, while the Egyptian interests along the Phoenician coast would be respected. In distant Nubia, in about Year 8, a rebellion in Irem was quickly crushed. So, in Africa, the new dynasty ruled as widely as its model, the eighteenth dynasty; but in the Near East, the formidable power of Hatti could not be pushed back, and Sety I was realistic enough to understand this.
In peace, Sety I's priorities were twofold: first, to please the traditional gods as spectacularly as possible, to gain their support and Egypt's well-being; and second, on the mundane level, to achieve an honest and efficient administration. Thus, he embarked on a magnificent building program for the four most important gods in Egypt: for the three state gods, Amun, Re, and Ptah in this life, and for Osiris, god of the afterlife. In Thebes, the immense hypostyle hall at Karnak was well begun; for his own permanent cult as a manifestation of Amun, he built a substantial memorial temple (Qurnah) on the western bank. It is highly probable that he had also planned and begun the great pylon and forecourt at Luxor temple, because Ramesses II brought it to rapid completion in the first three years of his reign. At Heliopolis, the sun god Re was to benefit from a pylon, forecourt, and obelisks (a “working model” appears in Badawy 1973); of all this, little more survives than the Flaminian Obelisk in Rome. At Memphis, the venerable creator god Ptah was to have a great hall fronting his temple, from which only part of a foundation deposit survives (Kitchen, Translations, 1993, p. 105; see Kitchen, Notes, 1993, pp. 100–101). At Abydos, a vast temple was at once a “pantheon” of Egypt's chief gods, a memorial temple of the king as Osiris, and a new sanctuary of Osiris alongside his traditional temple. Behind it, Sety I built a subterranean cenotaph (the Osireion) for the rites of Osiris and himself.
In administration, Sety I had a keen appreciation of character, choosing able men for high office, such as the vizier Paser and the cup-bearer and “troubleshooter” Asha-hebsed. Attempts were made to root out corruption and abuse, as the Nauri decree for the great Abydos temple makes evident. The work force for royal tombs in Western Thebes had been reorganized; they cut an immense tunnel-tomb for Sety I. In Year 11 at the earliest up to a theoretical Year 14 at the latest, Sety I suddenly passed to rest in that tomb, leaving a flourishing empire to his son Ramesses II, who had already served a few years of apprenticeship with him as prince regent with full royal trappings (excluding only his own regnal year-count).
Ramesses II was young and ambitious, even over-ambitious. Again, he achieved more in peace than by war. In Year 4, while confirming his hold on Phoenicia, he overwhelmed the Hittite vassal Amurru, in breach of his father's treaty with Muwatallis. His next objective was to recapture Kadesh, as a gateway to the rest of Syria once held by the previous dynasty. However, Muwatallis decided to put a brutal end to the young king's ambitions. When Ramesses II came north (by the inland route) to Kadesh in Year 5, he walked straight into a trap, from which he escaped only by personal bravery and the prearranged arrival on time of his second force, fresh from traversing the coast route: this was the notorious Battle of Kadesh. A second day's conflict achieved nothing, and Ramesses II refused Muwatallis's offer of a status quo agreement, returning to Egypt. The Hittite followed him down the Beqa Valley, but not over the Lebanese mountains, whence Ramesses gained the safety of the coast. The Hittites temporarily occupied the Egyptian zone of Upe in southern Syria. Thus Ramesses won, but Egypt lost. Year 7 may have seen a minor campaign in Moab and Edom. In Year 8, Ramesses fought to crush a rebellion in Galilee and to recover southern Syria; he then moved up the coast and inland past Kadesh to raid deep into Hittite Syria. Once he had gone back, the Hittites simply reoccupied the area. In Year 10, Ramesses repeated his exploit, but again he could not retain such distant territory. At last he had to realize that he could not push back the Hittite power, any more than his father had done. Thus, after a brief crisis in Year 18 (Beth-Shan stela) over the flight into Egypt of the Hittite ex-king Urhi-Tesup, Ramesses II was ready to respond to overtures by the hard-pressed Hattusil III, ending with a great state treaty in Year 21. This brought internal peace to the Levant and was confirmed through Ramesses' marriage to two successive Hittite princesses in Year 34 and later. Relations became close; the Hittite court eagerly sought Egyptian physicians.
In peace, Ramesses II pushed his father's great temples to completion, often in his own name (as at Karnak, Memphis, and in part Heliopolis). At Avaris, Sety I had a summer palace; Ramesses II built an entire eastern Delta capital, Piramesse (“Domain of Ramesses,” the biblical Raamses of Exodus 1:11), with its own great temples, barracks, docks, city, and vineyards. During his sixty-six years, he built in varying measure in the Levant and throughout Egypt and Nubia. Suffice it to mention only the West Hall at Memphis, his own memorial temples at Abydos and in Thebes (the Ramesseum), his own tomb plus a mausoleum for his offspring in the Valley of the Kings and tombs for several queens in the Valley of the Queens in Western Thebes, and a chain of temples in Nubia—often rock-cut (Beit el-Wali, Derr, two at Abu Simbel), partly so (Gerf Husein, Wadi es-Sebua), or stonebuilt (Aksha, Amarah West, Napata). Nonreligious works included a chain of forts along the Libyan coast route.
Prominent at Ramesses' court were his mother, Tuya, and his own queens, especially Nefertari, Istnofret, and the princess-queens; the Hittite queens made spectacular arrivals before simply becoming part of his harem. Several of his sons fought in his wars; Khaemwaset became a distinguished priestly scholar, investigating the ancient pyramids and inaugurating the Serapeum tunnel-tombs for the Apis bulls. Ramesses outlived at least three successive crown princes, until Merenptah finally succeeded him. His government included the veteran vizier Paser, and such viceroys of Nubia as Huy—who had escorted the first Hittite princess to Egypt—and Setau, who taxed the Nubians hard and superintended the building of Ramesses' later temples there.
At the aged king's death, when the invigoration of fourteen successive jubilee rituals (sed-festivals) could sustain him no more, his thirteenth son, Merenptah, succeeded him. Despite his years, the new king reacted vigorously to rising threats to Egypt and her domains. He promptly quelled unrest in Canaan (in his Year 1 or 2?), sending his son, the crown prince Sety, to crush revolt in Ascalon, Gezer, and Yenoam, and to chastise a “new” tribal group, Israel, in the hills, where a strategic well station was established near Jerusalem. Called the “Well of Merenptah,” this was later reinterpreted in Semitic as “Wellspring of the waters of Naftoah.” Thus, in Year 3, normal communications in the Egyptian-ruled Levant could continue unhindered, as a postal register shows. In Year 5 came a double threat. With a population augmented by Sea People immigrants from across the Mediterranean and food resources consequently scarcer, the Libyans attempted an invasion of the Egyptian Delta, having persuaded the Nubians to raise a diversionary revolt to the south of Egypt. However, Merenptah got wind of these intentions and mobilized swiftly to move first, while the Nubians delayed so long that Merenptah could decisively defeat the Libyans in the northwest while his viceroy crushed the Nubians in the south. Egypt could breathe again.
Already old, Merenptah could not rival his father's vast building projects; however, he carried out an inspection and refurbishment of Egypt's temples (Years 1 and 2), thus justifying adding his names to many standing monuments as his visiting card to the gods. His memorial temple in Western Thebes had to be built as quickly as possible, and so much stone for it was taken from older buildings. It was a little more than half the size of his father's Ramesseum, a fact cleverly disguised by fronting it with a pylon designed to be almost as large as that of the Ramesseum.
After Merenptah, the succession is clouded in obscurity. The general view of scholars has been that Amenmesse managed to usurp the throne for three years at Merenptah's death, so that the crown prince, Sety, had to oust him to ascend the throne as Sety II. This is still the simplest (and perhaps best) view of the matter, despite able advocacy of the theory that Sety II followed his father Merenptah directly on the throne, only for Amenmesse to arise in Nubia and Upper Egypt as a rival king for three years until Sety II managed to suppress him. The question must remain open at present. In any case, Sety II was succeeded by a young prince who reigned originally as Ramesses Siptah, later changing his throne name to Merenptah-Siptah. The powers behind his throne were the dowager queen Twosret (widow of Sety II) and a powerful courtier, the chancellor Bay, who was perhaps instrumental in placing Siptah on the throne. At the young king's death (Year 6), Twosret took over as female pharaoh with full titles, continuing his regnal years through to Year 8. She then disappeared (either by natural death or a coup dʾétat), and out of the following brief confusion—when Bay may have sought the supreme role—a new strong man, Sethnakhte, took over to found the twentieth dynasty.
The nineteenth dynasty was a transitional period in Egypt's political fortunes: from now on, Egypt could no longer guarantee to vanquish every foe in war. In other respects, there was innovation in several fields. Following Akhenaten's attempt at monotheism (centered on the sun god), Egypt's godhead was centered on the trio of Amun of Thebes, Re of Heliopolis, and Ptah of Memphis, whom one or two theological thinkers even considered to be aspects of one deity; but this was an elite concept, not much affecting the polytheism of ordinary folk. The Memphite Theology, cut on a basalt slab under Shabaqa (c. 700 bce) from a decaying papyrus, was probably a Ramessid product; in it, Ptah fashions all by his creative word (cf. the Greek logos). More prosaically, Ramesses II encouraged statue-cults of himself, embodying various aspects of the kingship, as foci of popular devotion. He built an unprecedented number of temples hewn in the living rock, especially in Nubia. Mausoleums for his sons (in the Valley of the Kings, Western Thebes) and for successive generations of sacred Apis bulls (buried at Saqqara, by Memphis) were a new concept in funerary usage. In education, the scribal curriculum was revised; alongside the old Middle Kingdom classics, works in the current (Late Egyptian) idiom were introduced, and with a practical bent. Such is the “Satirical Letter,” which teaches Levantine geography through one scribe appearing to taunt another over his incompetence. In art, fine sculpture and painting continued, though often lapsing into formalized mass production. Experiments included attempts at shading in facial color, as in Queen Nefertari's tomb. Foreigners featured in Egyptian society at all levels, from royal cup-bearers to whom the kings increasingly entrusted government missions, through most layers of officialdom all the way down to prisoners of war and hapless slaves toiling as cultivators on great estates of temple and state, or as laborers on building projects, making bricks or hauling stone blocks. In Thebes, the chief draftsman of Amun, Didia, could trace his ancestors (Semites and Hurrians) back through seven generations, with their often foreign wives. The Hurrian-named general Urhi-Tesup served under Sety I, while his son Yupa (a Canaanite name) had a distinguished career under Ramesses II, beginning as a stablemaster, overseeing brick-making, and then following his father up through the army before becoming high steward of the Ramesseum and having the honor of proclaiming Ramesses II's ninth jubilee. Foreign merchants offered their varied wares. This was perhaps the most cosmopolitan epoch in Egypt's long history.
Badawy, Alexander. A History of Egyptian Architecture: The Empire (the New Kingdom). Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968. Gives a convenient account of towns, houses, palaces, administrative buildings, military works, temples, and tombs for the New Kingdom, including the nineteenth dynasty.Find this resource:
Badawy, Alexander. A Monumental Gateway for a Temple of Sety I. Brooklyn, 1973.Find this resource:
Beckman, Gary. Hittite Diplomatic Texts. Atlanta, 1996. Contains modern English translations of almost all treaties made by the Hittite great kings, including that with Ramesses II of Egypt.Find this resource:
Bietak, M. Avaris and Piramesse. 2d ed. London, 1986.Find this resource:
Bleiberg, Edward, Rita Freed, and Anna Kay Walker. Fragments of a Shattered Visage: The Proceedings of the International Symposium of Ramesses the Great. Memphis, Tenn., 1991. A series of scholarly but readable studies on several different aspects of nineteenth dynasty Egypt.Find this resource:
Caminos, Ricardo A. Late-Egyptian Miscellanies, London, 1954. Annotated translations of a series of papyri (copied out by ancient students) that contain varied background information on life in the nineteenth and early twentieth dynasties.Find this resource:
Davies, Benjamin G. Egyptian Historical Records of the Later Eighteenth Dynasty. Fascicle 6. Warminster, 1995.Find this resource:
Epigraphic Survey. The Battle Reliefs of King Sety I. Chicago, 1986. Full and definitive copies of the great series of war scenes of Sety on the Great Hall at Karnak, together with translations and notes.Find this resource:
Freed, Rita E. Ramesses the Great. Memphis, Tenn., 1987. A lavishly illustrated exhibition catalogue on the world of Ramesses II and the nineteenth dynasty, with good general introduction.Find this resource:
Hayes, William C. The Scepter of Egypt. Part 2, The Hyksos Period and the New Kingdom (1675–1080 b.c.). Cambridge, Mass., 1959. Based on the Metropolitan Museum of Art Egyptian collection, a superb handbook on the material culture and artifacts of the New Kingdom, including the nineteenth dynasty.Find this resource:
Kitchen, K. A. Pharaoh Triumphant: The Life and Times of Ramesses II King of Egypt. Warminster, 1982. Popular account of the epoch of Ramesses II, with source references.Find this resource:
Kitchen, K. A. Ramesside Inscriptions Translated and Annotated: Translations. 2 vols. Oxford, 1993, 1996. Full English translations of all the principal historically relevant inscriptions of Ramesses I and Sety I (vol. 1), and of the official inscriptions of Ramesses II (vol. 2).Find this resource:
Kitchen, K. A. Ramesside Inscriptions Translated and Annotated: Notes and Comments. 2 vols. Oxford, 1993, 1998. Basic bibliography, introductions, background, and specialized notes (plus maps) to accompany the previous entry.Find this resource:
McDonald, John K. House of Eternity: The Tomb of Nefertari. London, 1996. A vividly illustrated, compact and readable book on Ramesses II's favorite queen, her splendidly decorated tomb, the tomb-builders, and the relevant Egyptian religious beliefs about the afterlife.Find this resource:
Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times. Princeton, 1992. Part 2 of this book (pp. 125–237) gives a well-documented survey of the interrelationships of Egypt with the Levant in the New Kingdom, including the nineteenth dynasty.Find this resource:
Ruffle, John, G. A. Gaballa, and K. A. Kitchen, eds. Orbis Aegyptiorum Speculum: Glimpses of Ancient Egypt, Studies in Honour of H. W. Fairman. Warminster, 1979. The essays by Gaballa, Lowle, Ruffle, and Kitchen deal with significant nineteenth dynasty private monuments, including foreigners in Egypt (Urhiya, etc.).Find this resource:
Smith, William Stevenson. Interconnections in the Ancient Near East: A Study of the Relationships between the Arts of Egypt, the Aegean, and Western Asia. New Haven and London, 1965. Excellent background work on the mutual stimulus in the arts between Egypt and her neighbors.Find this resource:
The twentieth dynasty (1200–1081 bce) was the second dynasty of the Ramessid period, and the last of the New Kingdom. It comprised ten kings: Sethnakht and nine kings named Ramesses, whom modern scholarship knows as Ramesses III to XI, but whom their contemporaries distinguished by a praenomen, or coronation name, and by a surname.
The founder of the dynasty, Sethnakht (r. 1200–1198 bce), like the founders of the preceding dynasty, was probably a general of the troops garrisoned in the eastern Nile Delta. He had no known relationship to the royal family of the nineteenth dynasty. He became king on the death without posterity of Queen Twosret, that dynasty's last ruler. There is no solid proof of his having been particularly hostile to her, as is sometimes surmised, nor of a civil war having led to his coronation. A historical stela from his second year, discovered in Elephantine, seems to imply that his seizure of power, probably agreed on previously by his peers, the leaders of the priesthood, army, and administration, was implemented by an oracle of Seth in this god's temple in Piramesse. Already an elderly man, he reigned only about two years, with his son Ramesses, shortly to become Ramesses III, acting as his deputy and second-in-command. A brief campaign of pacification was necessary to quell domestic unrest, probably bequeathed by the conflict between two lines of descent from Merenptah, which best explains the political troubles at the end of the nineteenth dynasty.
Ramesses III (r. 1198–1166 bce), son of Sethnakht and of his wife, Queen Tiy-Merenese, ruled Egypt for thirtyone years, and his figure dominates the whole period. Born before his father's accession to the throne, he was probably another military man. He had at least ten sons, by two main queens: Isis, daughter of Hemdjeret, and an anonymous lady. A secondary wife, Tiy, bore him a son, Pentawere, who would stand as a pretender to the throne against the legitimate heir, Ramesses IV, at the end of the reign. Three of these sons would reign after him: Ramesses IV, VI, and VIII. The intervening Ramesses V and VII were his grandsons, who died without living posterity, so that each time the crown reverted to a surviving uncle. After the death of Ramesses VIII, the crown went to the latter's nephew Ramesses IX, and then to this king's son and grandson, Ramesses X and XI. There is some speculation that two daughters of Ramesses XI, Tentamun and Henuttawy, married respectively Smendes I, the first king of the twenty-first dynasty, and the high priest of Amun, Pinodjem I, father of its third king, for purposes of legitimation, so that some of the early rulers of the Third Intermediate Period descended from Ramesses III on the maternal side.
The record of Ramesses III's reign is impressive. Between his Years 5 and 12, he built his famous funerary temple at Medinet Habu in Western Thebes, the last great architectural achievement of the New Kingdom. Meanwhile, he had to fight three major wars: in Years 5 and 11, at the Delta's western border, he conducted two campaigns against two successive groups of invading Libyan tribes, led respectively by the Libu and Meshwesh peoples; and in Year 8, in Palestine, there was a campaign against the migrating Sea Peoples, who on their way from the Aegean had destroyed all the states of the ancient Near East—even powerful Hatti. They were stopped by Ramesses III in Palestine on land and sea, but the king did not prevent them from settling in that country, especially on the coast (Dor, Akko, Tel Qasile), where they were later known as the biblical Philistines.
In the wake of these wars, from Year 15 on, Ramesses III implemented a systematic restoration and reorganization of all the temples of Egypt, lavishing on them a wealth of gifts brought as booty or as the product of expeditions abroad. Despite these achievements, strikes broke out in Deir el-Medina in Year 29, prompted by the inability of the administration to pay the workers their wages in grain. Traditionally viewed as a symptom of a general disorganization of the country's economy, these strikes seem better explained by a more conjectural factor: the impending celebration of the king's jubilee, which would require the collection of enormous quantities of food and goods, and which was held in Memphis on the thirtieth anniversary of his coronation.
At the end of the reign, prompted by Ramesses III's impending death, some discontented officials conspired with queen Tiy to deprive the legitimate heir Ramesses of the crown and give it to her son Pentawere. This so-called Harem Conspiracy sheds an interesting light on the existence of internal conflicts, which probably raged more or less permanently inside the leadership, behind the mask of unanimity conveyed by the official documents. The plot's exposure brought a bloody and ruthless repression, heralded by official texts such as the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, and the compilation for propaganda purposes of an official history of the reign, preserved as Papyrus Harris I.
After the death of Ramesses III, the history of the twentieth dynasty is one of the swift decline of Egypt, in less than a century, from the position of an aggressive international power, ruling territories in Asia and Nubia, to that of a second-rate, self-centered, impoverished country, racked with internal troubles. This decline was the result of a complex interaction of internal and external causes, of which three seem the most important. One was probably the repeated changes of line of descent among the successors of Ramesses III, which frequently raised to the throne kings unprepared for their tasks, thus preventing the emergence of a strong and able political leadership. Meanwhile, officialdom and local nobility showed more continuity than the central power, a sign that had always portended periods of political troubles in Egypt.
A second probable factor in Egypt's decline during the period was that, from the days of Ramesses III on, Middle and Upper Egypt, especially the Thebaid, experienced a growing state of public insecurity brought about by bands of roving Libyans who repeatedly raided the valley. The powerlessness of the administration to cope with the problem created a highly unfavorable context for the enforcement of law because it brought about a loss of confidence in the traditional institutions.
Third and most important, Egypt lost control during this period of all its external territories. In the Near East, the settlement of the Philistines on the Palestinian coast at last achieved what Egyptian policy and the contradictory ambitions of local rulers had conspired to avoid for so long: the progressive unification of the peoples of the country into a single independent political entity—later to become the Israelite kingdom—which had no reason to continue to contribute gratuitously to Egypt's standing. Meanwhile, by the end of the dynasty, the establishment of an independent princedom in Nubia deprived Egypt of its free access to the gold mines of the Wadi Allaqi. This stifled Egypt's redistributive economy, which needed more income than it produced, and relied accordingly on the appropriation of foreign goods. Because the legitimacy of the Egyptian ruler was founded largely on his ability to ensure by this appropriation the welfare of his people, the resulting penury weakened the primacy of the ruling house and its administration. People had to seek other means of income for themselves, and they found them in the tombs of their fathers and the temples of their gods.
By the death of Ramesses III, however, Egypt was still far from this sorry state. Ramesses IV (r. 1166–1160 bce) was obviously eager to follow in his father's steps. During his first three years of reign, he instituted new offerings for Amun at Karnak, ordered his cartouches and titulature to be engraved wherever possible, began the wall decoration of his father's khonsu temple at Karnak, and sent four expeditions to the Wadi Hammamat. The last one, which comprised nine thousand people (including a whole division of the army), brought back a sufficient quantity of graywacke stone, favored for statuary, to last until the end of the dynasty.
After an unusually late beginning (more than one year after his coronation), the work on Ramesses IV's tomb in the Valley of the Kings (tomb 2, of which a papyrus in Turin preserves a map), proceeded rapidly, aided by a doubling of Deir el-Medina's work force from 60 to 120 men. Meanwhile, the king made two successive plans for the construction of a great mortuary temple in the Asasif section of the Theban necropolis.
In his fourth year, Ramesses IV erected at Abydos two great stelae for Osiris and the local gods, stressing his legitimacy and showing them his piety, as exemplified by his works. He asked them, as a reward, to be granted a reign of double the sixty-seven years of rule of Ramesses II, but his prayer went unheeded: all his architectural projects as well as his political ones, if any, were cut short by his death after about six years of reign. Even the building of his mortuary temple was hardly begun by his death, so that his funerary cult would finally be enacted in a very small chapel adjoining the temple of the deified architect of the eighteenth dynasty, Amenhotep, son of Hapu, to the north of Medinet Habu. The brevity of this king's reign is in contrast with the tenure of office of the vizier Neferrenpet, active until Ramesses VI, and of the high priest of Amun Ramessesnakht, who was appointed to this post in the first year of Ramesses IV and who held it until his death under Ramesses IX, more than thirty years later.
Uneventful as it was, the reign of Ramesses IV still seems imposing in comparison with the colorless rule of the following kings, whose greatest achievements were the realization of their tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the usurpation of the names of their predecessors on existing monuments, while all signs of Egyptian control over Palestine disappear from the record. Ramesses V (r. 1160–1156 bce) was the son of Ramesses IV by his queen, Tentopet. A young man, he died after only about three years of reign, a victim of an infectious disease, probably smallpox. Besides some minor works, he tried without success to complete for himself his father's projected mortuary temple in the Asasif. The brevity of his reign did not allow him even to complete his tomb in the Valley of the Kings (tomb 9), which was to serve as the sepulcher of his successor Ramesses VI. He was the last Egyptian king to use the copper mines of Timna, north of Elath.
As a kind of compensation for its lack of sources on political history, the reign of Ramesses V produced three papyri that are exceptionally interesting for our knowledge of the society and its institutions: the Wilbour Papyrus, about 10 meters (32 feet) long, which is a detailed agricultural survey of the region between the Faiyum and Minia; the Turin Indictment Papyrus (Papyrus Turin 1887), which lists offenses of all sorts committed between the reigns of Ramesses III and V by a priest of Khnum of Elephantine, Penanqet, against this god's estate; and the complicated last will of the Lady Naunakhte, of Deir el-Medina.
The next king, Ramesses VI (r. 1156–1149 bce), was an uncle of Ramesses V and ascended the throne on his nephew's death without posterity. His reign of seven years has not left us much more than his cartouches engraved over his predecessors' on existing monuments. He tried, with no more success than Ramesses V, to build the projected funerary temple of Ramesses IV in the Asasif, which was afterward abandoned. He presented his mother, Isis, widow of Ramesses III, with a tomb in the Valley of the Queens (tomb 51), and completed for himself, in the Valley of the Kings, the tomb that his predecessor had barely begun. This predecessor's body he did not allow to be buried for sixteen months after death, a fact that has elicited much speculation and no satisfactory explanation. About the same time, the workforce of Deir el-Medina, doubled by Ramesses VI was reduced to its initial size of sixty. Abroad, Ramesses VI is the last pharaoh whose name is attested in the Sinai. In Nubia, the reign produced in Aniba the fine tomb of Penne, the viceroy of Kush's deputy for Wawat. It is also the last reign of the dynasty to produce significant statuary. Ramesses VI's Karnak statue (Cairo 42152), showing him as he leads a Libyan captive by the hair to Amun, as well as a triumphal scene in the temple, attests at least some campaigning against Egypt's western neighbors.
Of Ramesses VII (r. 1149–1141 bce), son of Ramesses VI, very little is known, despite a reign of seven years. Five grandiloquent hymns in his honor, preserved in Turin papyri, stand in ironic contrast to the scarcity of his achievements: like his predecessors, his main activities were adding his cartouches to previously existing monuments, the excavation of his tomb in the Valley of the Kings (tomb 1), and the burial of the sacred Mnevis bull in Heliopolis. In his two first years, we know of small expeditions being periodically sent to the Eastern Desert by the temple of Amun in quest for gold and galena. In Year 7, the log of a ship of the high priest of Amun shows that this institution was able to trade goods along the Nile. During the reign, the exchange value of grain seems to have risen steeply at Deir el-Medina. The scarcity of data prevents any generalization to the whole of Egypt of this growing “inflation,” for which no satisfactory explanation has been yet given.
Ramesses VII was predeceased by his son and heir Ramesses, so that for the second time in the dynasty the crown reverted to a king's uncle. The new ruler, Ramesses VIII (r. 1140–1139 bce), who was probably the last surviving son of Ramesses III, is totally obscure. He was probably very old, and he reigned no longer than a year, so that he was not even able to make himself a tomb in the Valley of the Kings. Because he left no surviving son, the crown went to his nephew, Ramesses IX, the son of one of his elder brothers, Montuherkhopshef, who was long dead and had not himself been king.
In spite of a reign of eighteen years, Ramesses IX (r. 1139–1120 bce) left no significant monuments. He built some minor works in Karnak, in the court between the third and fourth pylons, where he erected a stela to Amun. He also excavated two tombs in the Valley of the Kings: his own (tomb 6), and that of his prematurely deceased son Montuherkhopshef (tomb 19), hastily completed for this prince's burial. Outside Thebes, the funerary chapel of another of his sons, Nebmare, high priest of Re, has been preserved in Heliopolis. There was still some activity under this reign in Nubia, where three viceroys of Kush are known to have ruled the province, in succession from father to son.
In the second year of the reign, the high priest of Amun, Ramessesnakht, carrying out the king's order to procure galena, a lead ore used as eye paint, sent expeditions to Muqed, the desert hinterland of the Red Sea shore, where the coveted mineral was known to abound. For this he hired a little private army of Nubian Nehesy people to “pacify” the dangerous local Shosu bedouin. Ramessesnakht had been high priest of Amun since the first year of Ramesses IV, almost thirty years before. When he died, he was succeeded first by his son Nesamun, who died before Year 10, and then by his another son, Amenhotep, who would be high priest until the reign of Ramesses IX.
In Thebes, between Years 8 and 13 and probably before, the western bank of the Nile was rendered more and more insecure by repeated Libyan raids. The temple of Medinet Habu, whose exterior walls were those of a real fortress, became on these occasions a refuge for the local population, especially the workmen of Deir el-Medina, and was the seat of their institutions. From Year 13 on, in the lonely northern part of the Theban necropolis, and probably making use of these opportunities, a gang led by one Amunpanefer, coppersmith of the temple of Amun, began to rob the private tombs of their valuables. Some time later, encouraged by a feeling of total impunity (their chief demonstrated on two occasions that he knew how to bribe his way out of jail), they plundered the tomb of King Sobekemsaf II, of the seventeenth dynasty. This trespass against royalty roused from its lethargy an administration indifferent to the fate of the private sepulchers. The culprits were quickly arrested, tried by the Southern vizier Khaemwese, and put to death.
During his trial, Amunpanefer warned that his gang had not been alone in the plunder of the Theban necropolis. He had even hinted that the whole population of the western bank had been doing the same. One year later, his warning proved true when a group of eight workmen from Deir el-Medina, led by one Amenwau, son of Hori, plundered a tomb in the Valley of the Queens—probably the tomb of Queen Isis, the wife of Ramesses III. Even this relatively modest tomb yielded to its violators about 50 kilograms of gold and silver. How could the people dwelling in Western Thebes, in the context of Libyan raids and powerless institutions, have resisted the attraction of vast quantities of precious metals, relatively easy to get and useful in procuring any official complicity they needed? Tomb robberies continued well into the two next reigns.
Ramesses X (r. 1120–1111 bce) was the son and successor of the preceding king. Of his reign we know next to nothing, which makes it likely that it lasted three years rather than the nine that are conventionally assumed. His wife was probably Queen Tity, who was presented with a tomb in the Valley of the Queens (tomb 52). The king's own tomb in the Valley of the Kings was never completed (tomb 18).
The last king of the dynasty, Ramesses XI (r. 1111–1081 bce), ruled Egypt for at least twenty-seven years. This long reign—the longest since Ramesses III—falls into two parts, divided at the beginning of his Year 19. During the first half, Upper Egypt knew serious troubles, about which we are ill informed, although all written sources for the reign come from this part of the country. In the king's Year 9, an investigation revealed that a party of priests and temple employees, mainly from Medinet Habu, having secured the complicity of various craftsmen, had entirely stripped the Ramesseum of the enormous quantities of gold that decorated its walls and furniture, and then organized the demolition of its shrines of precious wood to sell them as planks. All this had apparently been done in a smooth, businesslike way, with no more trouble than buying the silence of some officials with a small share of plunder. It seems obvious that the reason why the Ramesseum was such easy prey was that it was by then totally abandoned and standing in an area largely deserted, owing to fear of raiding Libyans. This view is confirmed by a papyrus from Year 12 listing the houses on the Theban western bank. Of a total of 182, only 10 are listed between the temple of Sety I in Qurna and the Ramesseum, and 14 between the Ramesseum and Medinet Habu, against 155 around Medinet Habu.
These troubles demonstrated the failure of the civil power to enforce law and order, and so the king commissioned the nearest leader of troops, the viceroy of Kush, Panehsy, to rule Upper Egypt under martial law. His name is cited in this capacity not improbably as early as Year 9, and certainly between Years 12 and 17. In Year 12, besides his military titles, he bears that of “Director of the Royal Granaries,” charged with supervising the collection of grain around Thebes for the subsistence of the city, including Deir el-Medina.
Sometime in Year 17 or 18, for unknown reasons (some have proposed a conflict of power), Panehsy unlawfully ousted from office the high priest of Amun, Amenhotep, who had held the post since Ramesses VII. As Amenhotep fled to the king's court in Piramesse, Panehsy declared rebellion against the pharaoh and drew north with his army, into which Thebans—including former tombrobbers—had been drafted. Taking everyone by surprise, he probably reached Lower Egypt before meeting serious resistance; however, he was soon forced to retreat to Upper Egypt, then to Nubia, his troops leaving behind them a trail of destruction. The Middle Egyptian town of Hardai was severely sacked, and Cyril Aldred (1979) has argued with some ground that Panehsy's Nubians were the ones mainly responsible for the plundering of the Valley of the Kings, an act of depredation requiring much manpower. Eloquently, some Thebans later remembered these events as the “year of the hyenas, when one was hungry.” It must be noted that the sequence of these events and the parts played by their protagonists has been much debated. There are some grounds, however, for rejecting the former dating of the “war of the high priest,” as it was sometimes called, prior to Year 8, as well as the theory that Panehsy first came into Upper Egypt to help Amenhotep, who would then have been deprived of his office by other, unknown enemies.
As Panehsy fled back to Nubia, Ramesses XI came to Thebes with his troops to inspect the disaster, and proclaimed his nineteenth year to begin a new era, the wḥm msw.t, or Renaissance (lit. “repeating of births”), by which Theban documents are usually dated until the end of his reign. Significantly, this era was inaugurated by the appointment of the pharaoh's leading general, Herihor, a man of probable Libyan descent, to the combined governorship of Upper Egypt and viceroyalty of Kush—the latter being, however, more nominal than effective, since Panehsy was able to maintain himself in his original fiefdom as an independent ruler. Herihor was soon granted permission to add the high priesthood of Amun to his civil and military titles, since Amenhotep died shortly after having been restored to office. There is reason to assume that Herihor's appointment by Ramesses XI to the position of sole ruler of Upper Egypt was paralleled in the northern half of the country by the appointment to similar powers of another general, Smendes, who would become the first king of the twenty-first dynasty.
Herihor inaugurated his tenure by implementing a series of trials against the tomb robbers and temple robbers of the preceding period. These trials were far-reaching, as if intended to break the feeling of impunity the robbers had enjoyed for so long. In Year 6 of the Renaissance, he ordered the reburial of Ramesses II and Sety I, whose tombs had been violated during the preceding troubles. Meanwhile, in his role of high priest of Amun, he made some restorations in the temple of Karnak, and he finalized the decoration of the Khonsu temple, begun almost a century earlier. On this temple's inscriptions, he assigned himself a complete but fictive (ritual) royal titulature, while in his court he erected a stela, whose text is so damaged that it is impossible to determine the significance of its mention of an oracle of Amun having allotted him twenty, then thirty years either of tenure or of life. On the same temple's walls there is a representation of the procession of an Opet festival, for which he claims to have constructed a new bark for Amun. Dated in Year 5 of the Renaissance, the Story of Wenamun narrates the tribulations of the priest of this name sent to Byblos to buy the wood for this bark. The text is obviously fictional, although some scholars consider it an administrative report.
By Year 7 of the Renaissance, Herihor had been succeeded by another general, like him of probable Libyan descent: Piankh, who assumed all his titles, including high priest of Amun. Piankh's relationship to Herihor is unknown; there is no proof that he was his son, as was formerly accepted, nor that he preceded Herihor, as has recently been proposed. He settled three of his sons as second prophet of Amun (the future high priest, Pinodjem I), steward of Amun, and high priest of Medinet Habu, thus setting a definitive end to the local dynasty of Meribastet, which had ruled Amun's estate since the beginning of Ramesses III's reign. His priestly duties did not prevent Piankh from campaigning in Nubia against Panehsy, as late as Year 10, as recorded in his correspondence with Djehutymose and Butehamun, the last scribes of Deir el-Medina. However, his hopes to reclaim Nubia (and its gold mines) were frustrated, as proven by Panehsy's later burial in the tomb he had prepared for himself in Aniba. A tough military man, Piankh is known to have curtly ordered in one of his letters that two trespassing Theban policemen be placed in caskets and drowned by night. A cynic and a realist, he is also known for his famous reply, in the same letter: “Of whom is Pharaoh, l.p.h., superior still?”
Shortly after Piankh's disappearance of the scene, the dynasty came to an end. Ironically, one of the last acts of Ramesses XI was to send a crocodile and a monkey to the king of Assyria, Assur bel Kala, in a pathetic imitation of the exchange of diplomatic gifts in the days of Egypt's splendor. Because the intended Theban tomb of the king lay unfinished, it is possible that he was buried in his northern residence, which was still at Piramesse. At Thebes, the long process had begun which would transfer some of his ancestors' bodies to the Deir el-Bahri cachette (Ramesses III and IX) and the cachette of the tomb of Amenhotep II in the Valley of the Kings (Ramesses IV to VI). Shortly after the last Ramesses' death, almost as a symbol of the end of their rule, the silting up of the pelusiac branch of the Nile, on which Piramesse was situated, prompted the beginning of the transfer of the royal residence to the new site of Tanis, 25 kilometers (16 miles) to the north, and the complete devastation of its ancient counterpart.
Aldred, Cyril. More Light on the Ramesside Tomb Robberies. In Orbis Ægyptiorum Speculum: Glimpses of Ancient Egypt, Studies in Honour of H. W. Fairman edited by J. Ruffle et al., pp. 92–99. Warminster, 1979. See also below, under “Tomb and Temple Robberies.”Find this resource:
Bierbrier, Morris L. The Late New Kingdom in Egypt. Warminster, 1975. For the family of Meribastet, see pp. 10–13.Find this resource:
Černý, J. Egypt: From the Death of Ramesses III to the End of the Twenty-First Dynasty. In Cambridge Ancient History, 3d ed., pp. 606–657. Cambridge, 1975. A statement of the traditional, “standard” view of the period's history.Find this resource:
Grandet, Pierre. Ramsès III: Histoire d'un règne. Paris, 1993.Find this resource:
Jansen-Winkeln, Karl. Das Ende des Neuen Reiches. Zeitschrift für ägyptischen Sprache und Altertumskunde Ägyptens 119 (1992), 22–37. Advocates the order of succession Piankh—Herihor, which was not followed here, and the order of events which was.Find this resource:
Jansen-Winkeln, Kark. Die Plünderung der Königsgräber des Neuen Reiches. Zeitschrift für ägyptischen Sprache und Altertumskunde Ägyptens 122 (1995), 62–78. An attempt to prove that Piankh himself robbed tombs to finance his Nubian campaign; seductive but without serious proof.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. Ramses V–XI. In Lexikon der Ägyptologie, 5: 124–128. Wiesbaden, 1982.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100–650 bc). 2d edn. with supplement. Warminster, 1986. Reprinted, 1995, with a new preface, pp. xi–xlvi, reviewing recent contributions, especially those of Jansen-Winkeln listed above.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. The Twentieth Dynasty Revisited. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 68 (1982), 116–125. Fundamental work on the genealogy of the dynasty and its main source, the “Lists of Princes of Medinet Habu.”Find this resource:
Peden, Alexander J. The Reign of Ramesses IV. Warminster, 1994.Find this resource:
Černý, Jaroslav. Late Ramesside Letters. Bibliotheca Aegyptiaca, 9. Brussels, 1939. Hieroglyphic text of the letters to and from Piankh, translated in Wente's book.Find this resource:
Epigraphic Survey. The Temple of Khonsu. 2 vols. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Oriental Institute Publications, 100, 103. Chicago, 1979, 1981. The official publication of the temple of Khonsu at Karnak.Find this resource:
Kitchen, Kenneth A. Ramesside Inscriptions: Historical and Biographical. Oxford, 1975–1990. See vol. 5 (reigns of Sethnakht and Ramesses III), 6 (reigns of Ramesses IV to XI), and 7 (addenda to the preceding volumes). The authoritative collection of all sources in their original hieroglyphic script; a translation is forthcoming.Find this resource:
Peden, Alexander J. Egyptian Historical Inscriptions of the Twentieth Dynasty. Documenta Mundi: Egyptiaca, 3. Jonsered, 1994. An anthology of various sources in translation.Find this resource:
Seidlmayer, Stephan J. Epigraphische Bemerkungen zur Stele des Sethnachte aus Elephantine. In Stationen, Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte Ägyptens, Rainer Stadelmann gewidmet, edited by H. Guksch et al., pp. 363–386. Mainz, 1998. Plates 20–21, Beilage 3a, are the latest publication of the Elephantine Stela of Sethnakht.Find this resource:
Wente, Edward F. Late Ramesside Letters. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, 33. Chicago, 1967. A translation of the texts published by Černý (1939).Find this resource:
Goelet, Ogden, Jr. A New ‘Robbery’ Papyrus: Rochester MAG 51.346.1. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 82 (1996), 107–127, pl. IX–X. A new papyrus to add to the documents in Peet's publication.Find this resource:
Peet, Thomas E. The Great Tomb-Robberies of the Twentieth Egyptian Dynasty. 2 vols. Oxford, 1930. The classic publication of the original documents relative to the tomb and temple robberies under Ramesses IX and XI.Find this resource: