Ancient Egypt - The 25th Dynasty

Updated: Feb 10

Since the days of Ramesses II, Nubia had gone its own way, eventually founding the capital of the Nubian Kingdom in Napata. Nubia was made up of many tribes that often fought each other and could never unite against Egypt. Now with Egypt fragmented, they were allowed to grow independent.

King Kashta

By this time, in the 23rd Dynasty, the Nubian king Kashta recognized Egypt's weakness and moved to capitalize on it. Kashta greatly admired Egyptian culture and mirrored his own kingdom on the religious and artistic customs. As a result, the cult of Amun had a firm hold in Nubia and he managed to increase his influence through his daughter who was appointed God's Wife of Amun. The significance of her position was immense and he basically took control of Thebes, and with it, Upper Egypt.

Pharaoh Piankhi

The God's Wife, was a post held by a royal princess, who as the wife of Amun, maintained the god's cult on behalf of the king. This endorsed his right to rule, which made it easy to peacefully take over. His son, Piankhi, strengthened Nubian control of Upper Egypt, established the 25th Dynasty, and moved north against the kings of Lower Egypt with a considerable army. The two forces met at Herakleopolis.

Initially the confederation of northern rulers enjoyed a level of success, however, they were eventually pushed to Hermopolis where they were compelled to surrender. Piankhi allowed these rulers to return home and continue as governors of their respective cities, a policy which, centuries later, Alexander the Great was to find effective during his world domination. Piankhi returned to Napata where he continued to rule until his death in 716 B.C.

Piankhi was buried at el-Kurru, just to the south of Gebel Barkal, in the pyramid field that was to include the burials of several kings of the 25th Dynasty. The pyramid tombs adopted by the Kushites were very different from the Egyptians. They were much smaller and their angle of inclination was severely sharper that the true pyramid. However, the Kushite kings wholeheartedly embraced almost all the old Egyptian burial customs. They added, according to their previous Nubian customs, the practice of laying the royal body on a bed in the tomb, and nearby, burying chariot horses standing in teams of four to accompany their master.

Pharaohs Shabaka & Shibitku

Piankhi was succeeded by his brother Shabaka, who continued the revival of Old Egyptian customs. The history of the period is very much tied in with the rise and expansion of Assyria. Whilst Shabaka had kept the Assyrian king Sargon II at bay, his successor Shibitku took a different stance and sided with a Palestinian/Phoenician revolt against the Assyrian overlords, against the mighty king Sennacherib. This was poking an aggressive giant, a very violent one at that! Shebitku got lucky, for Sennacherib was assassinated before he could mount a campaign. But this would soon be carried out by his son a Esarhaddon.

Pharaoh Taharqa

During this brief pause in conflict, Taharqa succeeded his brother Shebitku as pharaoh. Unlike Egypt's tradition of being succeeded by the eldest son, Nubia's tradition was that the king be succeeded by his brother.

Taharqa's name is the one most associated with the Kushite Dynasty largely because of his widespread building projects throughout the kingdom. His most famous construction was the column in the First Court of the Temple of Amun in Karnak. By creating this grand entrance, he visually took control and credit for the whole project, thus making him the most famous Nubian ruler.


Taharqa's building projects at Thebes were carried out under the direction of Mentuemhet, who held the office as Mayor of Thebes and 4th Priest of Amun. He virtually ruled the whole of Middle Egypt. He is one of the few great officials of whom several distinctive portrait statues have survived. His tomb in the Theban Necropolis (TT32) is among the largest constructed. He and his brothers, who also held the high-ranking priestly offices, kept the Theban nobility in check for Taharqa.

Back in Assyria, Esarhaddon consolidated power and began a campaign on the Egyptian/Palestinian border. He was defeated by the combined forces of Ashkelon and Egypt in 673 BC. This just infuriated him more and he planned and executed an all out invasion of Egypt in 671 BC. He captured Memphis, the heir apparent, and most of the royal family except Taharqa, who fled very quickly south to Thebes. Esarhaddon didn't follow, and instead called himself king of Egypt, looted the cities in the Delta, and returned home. He erected a victory stele showing the son of Taharqa in chains. As soon as he left, Egypt again rebelled against Assyrian rule.

This 669 BC rebellion forced Esarhaddon to return to Egypt, but he died while traveling with the army and was succeeded by his son, Ashurbanipal. This new king had to return to Assyria to secure the throne, but sent his army ahead to Egypt. Near Memphis, the two armies collided, and once again Taharqa fled south when he was

defeated. This time, Taharqa was pursued to Thebes, where the Assyrians received the city from Mayor Mentuemhet. Taharqa continued south to his remote capital at Napata. In Memphis, the Assyrians deported the nobility to Nineveh in chains and installed Necho I as puppet ruler of Egypt.

Pharaoh Tanutamun

In Nubia, Taharqa installed his cousin, Tanutamun, as heir and co-regent who became king of Nubia a year later. Taking advantage of the Assyrian absence, Tanutamun swept north taking Aswan, Thebes, and finally Memphis where he assassinated Necho I for being Assyria's representative. In response, Ashurbanipal returned to Egypt with a massive force and engaged Tanutamun and his army in the Delta. Like all the times before, they were swiftly defeated. Tanutamun was chased south where he eluded the Assyrians who would not pass Aswan. The Assyrian army then did the unthinkable. They sacked Thebes, the jewel of Amun and the ancient world. They looted the temples and laid waste to the treasury. The Assyrians nominally held Egypt, but Tanutamun was secure in Napata. His death in 656 BC ended the Nubian domination of Egypt.

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