Third Intermediate Period
Egypt’s Third Intermediate Period saw the rise of the 21st Dynasty first ruled by Smendes and the transfer of the capital to Tanis in the Nile Delta. The High Priests of Amun were equal in power with the Tanis-based pharaohs, but these priests ruled Thebes in Upper Egypt. The Lower and Upper Egypt rulers respected each other and shared the power while governing their respective parts of Egypt. This period also saw the rise of Israel as a unified nation and the reign of its three first kings. Israel and Egypt strengthened their alliance when Pharaoh Siamun sent his daughter to Israel for King Solomon to marry.
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Dynasties 22 to 24: Libyan Rulers
The 22nd Dynasty is marked by the gradual rise to power of the Libyan rulers because of the division of power between Upper and Lower Egypt. Some of the Libyans were immigrants who originally settled in the Nile Delta, but others were also war captives and garrison troops. As their numbers increased and they assimilated in the Egyptian society, the power they had also increased and they soon made good alliances through marriage with the rulers of Thebes. For example, Shoshenq I (the Biblical Shishak) had his son Osorkon I marry Maatkare, the daughter of Psusennes II who was the last pharaoh and priest of the 21st Dynasty. He was also the chief adviser for the last pharaoh, and this made his rise as king of Egypt easier.
Shoshenq I reformed the government during his time as pharaoh. He lessened the power of the priests in Thebes and appointed his son Prince Iuput as High Priest to solidify his hold over Egypt. He tried to expand Egypt’s territory into Palestine (1 Kings 14:25) and attacked Judah with an army of Libyans and Cushites.
Egypt slipped into decline after the death of Shoshenq, and royal control weakened once again. The 23rd and 24th Dynasties are possibly of similar Libyan Meshwesh origins. The 23rd Dynasty is said to have ruled in Herakleopolis, Hermopolis or Thebes while the 24th Dynasty ruled in Sais. The conquest of Egypt by Piye, a Kushite king, ended the Libyan rule in Egypt and started the 25th Dynasty under Nubian rule.
Dynasty 25: Nubian Rulers
Piye ruled in Nubia and Upper Egypt, then invaded Lower Egypt by taking advantage of the weakening of the Libyan rule. Piye removed a local prince named Tefnakht from his power base in the Nile Delta during his campaign to unite Egypt and Nubia. His accomplishments were inscribed in the Victory Stela of Piye, and he created an empire that spanned from modern-day Sudan to the Mediterranean. After the surrender of the local warlords, Piye returned to Nubia and never set foot in Egypt again.
Piye’s heir, Shabaqo, came back and reestablished rule in Lower Egypt. He was succeeded by other Nubian kings Shebitqo, Taharqo (the Biblical Tirhakah), and Tanutamani. Nubian control of Egypt was broken by the invasion of the Neo-Assyrians and by the time of Taharqo, the Nubians had lost control of Lower Egypt. The loss of Upper Egypt followed during the reign of Tanutamani. The Assyrian rule was established, and local Egyptian rulers became vassals of the foreign conquerors.
Dynasty 26: Saite Kings
As the Assyrian power declined in the Near East in 612 BC, its hold over Egypt also loosened. For the first time in many centuries, the power was held by a native Egyptian family of the 26th Dynasty. The Saite Dynasty ruled from 650 BC, and the country was unified by the dynasty’s third pharaoh, Psamtek I. They adopted the culture of the Old Kingdom and trade was established with the Greeks and Phoenicians. For much of the rule of the 26th Dynasty, Greek, Carian, Jewish, Phoenicians, and Bedouins were employed to protect Egypt from the invasion of the Babylonians and Persians.
Dynasty 27: Persian Rule
The Babylonians succeeded in conquering Egypt in 568 BC which later turned into an alliance. They were soon followed by the Persians who conquered Egypt under the Achaemenid Emperor Cambyses. He besieged Memphis in 525 BC and after a 10-day siege, the Egyptian capital fell to the Persians who established the country’s 27th Dynasty. Egypt became one of Persia’s satrapies (provinces) supervised by Persian satraps or governors. Cambyses and his successor Darius allowed the Egyptians the freedom to worship their own gods and even rebuilt some important temples. The Achaemenid hold on Egypt did not last long when Alexander III of Macedonia conquered the Persian empire.
Dynasty 28 to 30: Last of the Native Egyptian Pharaohs
The Egyptians rebelled from Persian rule and Amyrtaios, a descendant of the Saite kings, became one of the rulers of the 28th Dynasty. The 29th Dynasty kings ruled in the Nile Delta city of Mendes while the 30th Dynasty ruled from the city of Sebennytos. The advancing army of Alexander the Great put an end to Egyptian self-rule, and Nectanebo II became the last native Egyptian pharaoh. Alexander the Great led a short-lived Macedonian rule in the history of Egypt.
Taylor, John, and Ian Shaw. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
Myśliwiec, Karol. The Twilight of Ancient Egypt: First Millennium B.C.E. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000
Picture By Rama – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=538598
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