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Dictionary of African Biography
stanley m. kosterstanley m. koster

Khababash (fl. fourth century BCE),  

Egyptian pharaoh (c. 338–336 BCE). Historians of ancient Egypt end their accounts of Pharaonic Egypt with the reign of Nectanebo II (360–343 BCE), the last king of the Thirtieth Dynasty, and the restoration of Persian rule by Artaxerxes III. They have good authority for doing so. The Hellenistic Egyptian historian Manetho, whose king lists are the basis of modern Egyptian historiography, also ended his history of Egypt with this king. Nevertheless, Nectanebo II was not the last native pharaoh to rule Egypt before the Macedonian conquest in 332 BCE. That distinction belongs to a king named Khababash, who briefly ruled Egypt in the first half of the 330s BCE.

Khababash is not a familiar figure to ancient historians, as he is not mentioned in either Egyptian or Greek historical narratives. Historians first learned of his existence with the publication in 1871 of the Satrap Stela, an inscription recording a decree honoring Ptolemy I, while Ptolemy was still only satrap, for his restoration in 311 BCE of land and offerings to the temple of Horus of Pe at Buto in the western delta. In the course of the narrative of Ptolemy’s benefactions, the priests of Horus noted that Ptolemy was returning to the temple land that had been granted to it by Khababash when he visited Buto while inspecting his forces in Lower Egypt as part of his preparations to resist an imminent Persian invasion.

Subsequent to the publication of the Satrap Stele, five additional documents that mentioned the name of Khababash were discovered. Four were discovered in Lower Egypt: a sling bullet from the site of the ancient city of Sais, a scarab, an inscribed vase, and the lid from the coffin of an Apis bull, dated to the third month of Achat (January) of Khababash’s second regnal year. The fifth document was discovered at Thebes in Upper Egypt, a legal text known as P. Libbey that was written in January of Khababash’s first year.

Because of his absence from Manetho’s king lists, establishing the date of Khababash’s reign was difficult. Initially, scholars dated his reign to the first half of the fifth century BCE because of a reference to the Persian king Xerxes in the Satrap Stele. The discovery that the scribe who wrote P. Libbey also wrote another document in 324 BCE, however, made it clear that Khababash’s reign actually was to be dated to the second half of the fourth century BCE. The most probable date is the years 338 to 336 BCE, the only two-year period during the 330s BCE, when the sources seem to indicate a break in Persian control of Egypt.

With such limited sources, it is not possible to provide a detailed account of Khababash’s reign. His name suggests that, like most of the previous Egyptian rebels against Persian rule, Khababash was not an Egyptian, but most likely a Libyan or Nubian. The main outlines, however, of his reign are clear. First, the fact that documents dated by the years of his reign have been found in both Upper and Lower Egypt indicates that Khababash succeeded in gaining control of all Egypt from the Mediterranean to Aswan, where granite for the coffins of Apis bulls was quarried. Second, he was recognized throughout the country as a true king, since he had a proper royal titulary and performed acts typical of a king such as making grants to temples and presiding over the burial of an Apis bull. Third, the Memphite character of his royal titulary—Image of Tjennen, Chosen of Ptah—and the evidence for good relations with Buto and the presence of his soldiers at Sais suggest that the core of his support was in Lower Egypt. Fourth, and finally, sometime after January 336 BCE Persian rule was reestablished in Egypt. Khababash’s final fate is unknown, but if he is to be identified with the Kambasawden defeated by the contemporary Kushite king Nastasen, then his reign may have ended with an unsuccessful attempt to withdraw to Nubia and establish a new kingdom there.

Despite the brevity of Khababash’s reign, the historical significance of his revolt against Persia should not be underestimated. Not only did he succeed in liberating Egypt without the assistance of foreign allies, but the effort to suppress his rebellion also contributed to the failure of the Persians to mount a successful defense against the invasion of Anatolia by the forces of the Macedonian king Philip II in the summer of 336 BCE. In the end, of course, Khababash was defeated, and it was his enemies who governed Egypt at the time of Alexander the Great’s conquest in 332 BCE. For such men Nectanebo II and not Khababash was the last legitimate pharaoh. As a result, Khababash’s name was erased from history. Had the priests of Horus of Pe not appealed to Ptolemy I for the restoration of the privileges granted their temple by Khababash, all memory of his reign would have disappeared from the public record.

[See also Alexander the Great; Artaxerxes III; Manetho; Nastasen; Nectanebo II; and Ptolemy I Soter.]


Burstein, Stanley M.. “Prelude to Alexander: The Reign of Khababash.” The Ancient History Bulletin 14 (2000): 149–154.Find this resource:

Hintze, Fritz. Studien zur meroitischen Chronologie und zu den Opfertafeln aus den Pyramiden von Meroe. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1959.Find this resource:

Katznelson, I. “Kembesweden et Khababash.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 93 (1966): 89–93.Find this resource:

Spallinger, A. “The Reign of Chabbash: An Interpretation.” Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache 105 (1978): 142–154.Find this resource:

stanley m. koster