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Ancient Egypt - The Third Intermediate Period

Updated: Feb 10, 2021


The steadily increasing power of the priesthood of Amun at Thebes had come to a head under Ramesses XI. Homer spoke of the wealth of Thebes in the Iliad, Book 9:

“In Egyptian Thebes the heaps of precious ingots gleam, the hundred-gated Thebes!'

The Amun priesthood owned two-thirds of all temple land in Egypt, 90% of all ships, and 80% of all factories. Their grip on the state's economy was paramount. It was therefore merely a short step for Herihor, the High Priest of Thebes, to enforce his supremacy over the last of the Ramessides and create a ruling class, taking power from the pharaohs.

High Priest of Amun - Herihor

Herihor, who was originally an Egyptian army officer had advanced through the ranks of the military during the reign of Ramesses XI. His wife, Nodjmet, may have been Ramesses XI's daughter. He served several years under the king but assumed more and more titles. This split between Ramesses XI and Herihor was peaceful and they quietly agreed to accept the new political situation. Herihor ruled alongside Ramesses XI for six years (1080-1074 B.C.). His major building projects involved the Temple of Khonsu on the south side of the temple complex of Amun at Thebes, where be built the forecourt and the pylons.

High Priest of Amun - Pinedjem

Herihor died before Ramesses XI, but he set the stage for other priest kings. He was most likely succeeded by Pinedjem, who inherited a political and religious base of power at Thebes. With this, he strengthened his control over both Middle and Upper Egypt and asserted his kingdom's virtual independence from the 21st Dynasty, which had now moved to Tanis, in the Delta region. He married Henuttawy, a daughter of Ramesses XI. Their son, Psusennes I, went on to become Pharaoh at Tanis, thereby removing the gap between the two families. In practice, however, the 21st Dynasty kings and the Theban kings were probably never very far apart politically since they respected each other's political autonomy.

Pinedjem's mummy, and a large number of his blue faience ushabti figures were found in the royal cache at Dier el-Bahari. He apparently had intentions of taking over the unfinished tomb of Ramesses XI, but never did so. Where he was buried originally remains unknown.

The details of the remaining high priests at Thebes become vague and somewhat debated. Like the previous intermediate periods, the history is poorly documented.

Pinedjem II carried out another inspection on the Valley and found that all the burials had been robbed. He declared the Valley could no longer be protected and moved the mummies for safety to a secret cliff tomb, which he chose as his own. This cache of mummies, now called the Dier el-Bahari Cache, would remain safe until their discovery in the late 1800s.

The Story of Wenamun

The Story of Wenamun sheds some light on this poorly recorded period, although whether it's historical fiction is debated. As the story begins, the principal character, Wenamun, is sent by Herihor to the Phoenician city of Byblos. Wenamun is a priest of Amun at Karnak and is tasked with acquiring giant cedar logs to build a new ship to transport the cult image of Amun. He is robbed while traveling to Byblos, and upon arrival, is shocked by the hostile reception he receives. When he finally gains an

audience with the local king of Byblos, Zakar-Baal, the king requires he pay first, which conflicts with the original custom. Wenamun has to send for the money, a humiliating move that reveals Egypt's waning power over the Eastern Mediterranean. The Story of Wenamun is one of the most vivid and descriptive narratives of pre-classical times.

The 21st Dynasty

The 21st Dynasty began with Smendes who proclaimed himself king after the death of Ramesses XI. He moved the capital from Pi-Ramesses to Tanis, which was largely rebuilt using stones from Pi- Ramesses. Smendes was succeeded briefly by Amenemnisu, a son of Herihor, who