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Necho II

Dictionary of African Biography

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Necho II (d. 595 BCE),  

pharaoh of Egypt (r. 610–595 BCE), second ruler of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, came from Sais in the northwestern Delta. Son of Wahibre Psammetichus I, his mother was Mehetenweskhet and his wife Khedebnitirtbint. He had four children: the future king Psammetichus II and three daughters, Mer-Neith-ist-es, Mer-nebty, and Esekhebi.

The main historical sources relative to his reign are the Greek historian Herodotus (II, 158–159; IV, 42), the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 35–36), and the so-called Babylonian Chronicle, while very few indigenous sources are available. Nothing of his life before his accession to the throne is known. After his father’s death, Necho II succeeded him with the name of Wehemibre Necho. The first date relative to his reign, “year one, eleventh month, day one” (18 November 610 BCE) comes from a funerary stela of a priest named Psammetichus. Other dated information comes from the funerary stelae of the Apis bulls buried in the Serapeum at Memphis.

After his accession, the king’s major worry was foreign policy. His father, Psammetichus I, was involved in an alliance with the Assyrians against the Babylonian kingdom of Nabopolasser. The year of his enthronement, Necho II was at the city of Carchemish in North Syria, helping the Assyrian troops led by king Assuruballit. In 609, Egyptian troops were blocked at Megiddo (the biblical Armageddon) by Josiah, king of Judah. The consequent battle left Josiah dead and the kingdom of Judah an Egyptian vassal. Interfering with Judah’s succession rules, Necho II replaced Jehohaz with his brother Eliakim, whose name the Egyptian pharaoh changed into Jehoiakim. The final defeat of the Assyrian kingdom left Egypt on its own facing the growing power of Babylon. In this situation, Necho II preferred to place Egyptian troops at Carchemish, making the city his main stronghold in the region, with the Egyptian army controlling it from the Euphrates River as far as Sidon on the Mediterranean coast.

As the Chaldean kingdom reorganized, Necho’s policy seemed successful. But in 605 BCE, the Egyptian army was defeated at Carchemish by the Babylonian army led by Nebuchadnezzar, acting on his father’s behalf. Any Egyptian control over the Levantine region was lost. As the Egyptians retreated, Nabopolasser’s death gave respite to Necho.

Once Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon, Sidon, Jerusalem, and Damascus paid their tribute to the king. The king of Ashkelon rebelled against the Chaldean king and asked for help from the Egyptian king, who was unable to offer any resolute action. Necho II also had to face a Babylonian attack on Egypt itself (601 BCE), which was repelled at Gaza, with the city falling into Egyptian hands. The consequent reorganization of the Babylonian army led Jehoiakim to plan for an open rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar and move back to the Egyptian side. As the rebellion was discovered and the king of Judah and his family were brought to Babylon, Necho did not intervene to help him. While he had to sustain a few major setbacks, because Necho II’s foreign policy in the Levantine area was focused on protecting the Egyptian border, it can be said that he was able to achieve his goal.

In the eastern Nile Delta, Necho II ordered the excavation of a canal linking the city of Bubastis along the easternmost branch of the Nile with the Red Sea (Herodotus II, 158). Necho II stopped the excavation of the canal as an oracle declared that he was working for the enemy and after 120,000 workers had died working on it. Archaeological evidence confirms that the canal completed by the Persian king Darius I and solemnly celebrated on bilingual stelae was in fact preceded by earlier works of canalization.

Like his father Psammetichus I and all his successors, Necho II was heavily dependent on foreign mercenaries composing his army. Greek mercenaries were one of the constituent parts of it. They settled in the so-called stratopeda, fortified cities established along Egyptian border zones. Historical and archaeological material confirms that Necho II, like the other Saite pharaohs, offered temple offerings in various Greek cities. Dedications made by Necho II have been found in the Temple of Athena Polias at Rhodes, and his war helmet was donated to the Temple of Apollo at Brachidae, south of Miletus.

In possible opposition to the predominant Babylonian army superiority, Necho II tried to affirm Egyptian predominance on the sea. The Egyptian navy was supplemented by Greek triremes. Such a fleet was not of any direct military use, or at least no information has survived for it. Instead, Necho II ordered a circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenicians, an expedition that lasted three years (Herodotus IV, 42). From a port on the Red Sea, they navigated around Africa and came back through the Strait of Gibraltar. The reason for such an expedition, the historical reality of which is doubtful, is not known.

The only available information about any policy toward Nubia and the south is a fragmentary stela from Elephantine, the remains of which contain information about ships and horses to be sent south of the border. While most of the information about Necho II’s foreign policy comes from external sources, his internal policy is completely unknown. Apart from very small objects and bronze statuettes possibly representing him, no monumental buildings are known from his reign. Necho II died in the sixteenth year of his reign and was buried in the Temple of Neith at Sais, as were the other members of the dynasty. His mummy has never been recovered, and of his funerary objects only a heart scarab, once kept in Paris, is known.

Necho II was succeeded by his son, Psammetichus II. Modern scholars have described the reign of Necho II as a failure, at least at the eyes of his contemporaries. In fact, during the reign of his son and successor Neferibre Psammetichus II, many statues belonging to Necho II’s officials had the names Wehemibre and Necho erased and changed into those of Neferibre Psammetichus. The name changes, however, may have been more in honor of the new king than in open hostility against the deceased one.

[see also Herodotus; Psammetichus I; andPsammetichus II.]


Gozzoli, Roberto B. “The Statue BM EA 37891 and the Erasure of Necho II’s Names.” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 86 (2000): 67–80.Find this resource:

    Lloyd, Alan B. Herodotus Book II. A Commentary. Leiden: Brill, 1988.Find this resource:

      Redford, Donald B. Egypt, Israel and Canaan in Ancient Times. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

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