Updated: Feb 10
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 was succeeded by Psusennes I.
Professor Pierre Montet discovered Pharaoh Psusennes I's tomb in Tanis in 1940. The was Egypt's first intact royal tomb to ever be found. Remember that Tutankhamun's tomb had been robbed twice in antiquity before being resealed. Had these treasures not been found during World War II and published only in French, public fascination would have been enormous.
In this tomb, a large red granite sarcophagus enclosed a black granite coffin, which in turn held a silver inner coffin. Over the face of the mummy lay a gold face mask. The large sarcophagus had originally been used 170 years earlier for the burial of Merneptah. The black granite coffin had belonged to a high-ranking 19th Dynasty noble. The silver inner coffin was three times more valuable than that of King Tutankhamun's. Silver was more valuable than gold in Egypt, about three times more valuable.
These items were being obtained from the south and it was during this time that the Theban Dynasty was actively looting and recycling valuables from the Valley of the Kings. This state-sponsored tomb robbing would be common practice throughout the remainder of the Third Intermediate Period.
The history of the following kings of the 21st Dynasty at Tanis are vague. King Siamun enlarged the Temple of Amun at Tanis and supervised the rewrapping of a number of royal mummies later discovered in the Dier el-Bahari cache of 1881. The little light that is thrown on the 21st Dynasty comes largely from the Biblical record, since the period coincides with the struggle of David in Israel. An Egyptian campaign that seized Gezer from the weakened Philistines was recorded in the Old Testament. Solomon had succeeded his father David, and an Egyptian alliance was sealed by Solomon's marriage to an Egyptian princess. Egypt was now reversing the practice of diplomatic marriages by 'marrying out' their daughters, something unheard of until now.
The Theban priests of the 21st Dynasty preserved another cache of royal mummies in the tomb of Amenhotep II. This explains how Psusennes I came to be buried with the lid of Merneptah's sarcophagus. Merneptah's body had been moved to the tomb of Amenhotep II for safe-keeping, but the huge sarcophagus was shipped north to Tanis.
The end of the dynasty came with Psusennes II, whose reign is little known. His successor, Sheshonq I, the founder of the 22nd Dynasty, married Maatkare, Psusennes II's daughter, thus forging another dynastic marriage tie.
The 22nd Dynasty
Often referred to as the Libyan Dynasty, Manetho lists the kings as all being from Bubastis in the Eastern Delta. Sheshonq I would inaugurate a series of kings who would rule Egypt for the next 200 years. Prior to his reign, Sheshonq I, had been commander-in-chief of the Egyptian army and chief adviser to his father-in-law. His rise to power was not wholly unexpected. During this time, Libyan mercenaries were used in Egypt as a police force. Sheshonq himself was likely the descendant of
captives that Ramesses III had brought back to Egypt.
'They had reached the bank of the Great River from one end to the other. They
had taken possession of the cities in that region, but I destroyed them. I
massacred all of them together. I forced them to go back across the frontiers
of Egypt. I brought back the rest of some, great booty, spurring them on,
gathering them like fowl before my horses; their women and children by
the thousand; their cattle by the millions. I enlisted their princes in my
fortresses. I gave them chief archers and tribal chiefs. I made them into
slaves, marked them with my name, their women and children likewise.”
The Libyan mercenaries gradually integrated into Egyptian society. As king, Sheshonq I pursued an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East. Following the death of Solomon, in 930 B.C., the kingdom of Israel split, and became greatly weakened. Known as Shishak of the Bible, Sheshonq I defeated Judah in a highly successful campaign. He sacked the Temple of Solomon and marched to Megiddo, the scene of Tuthmosis III's victory 500 years before, where he erected a victory stele in the manner of his predecessors. He returned to Egypt and constructed a new court before the Second Pylon at Karnak while documenting the campaign on its south outer wall.
Soon after the triumphant Palestinian campaigns, Sheshonq I died and was succeeded by his son, Osorkon I. He continued to provide strong patronage for the various leading priesthoods, thereby consolidating his position as well as maintaining a continuous building program, especially at his
native city of Bubastis.
Osorkon I was succeeded by Sheshonq II, who was the only ruler of this dynasty whose tomb was not plundered by tomb robbers. His burial was discovered winthin an antechamber of Psusennes I's tomb at Tanis by Pierre Montet in 1939. Montet removed the coffin lid of Sheshonq II on March 20, 1939, in the presence of King Farouk of Egypt himself. It proved to contain many jewel-encrusted bracelets and pectorals, along with a beautiful hawk-headed silver coffin and a gold funerary mask.
Takelot I, who was a son of Osorkon I by a minor wife, succeeded Sheshonq II around 885 B.C. This reign left no major monuments and observed the beginning of the fragmentation of Egypt once more into two power bases. At about 872 B.C., Osorkon II succeeded his father, Takelot I, as pharaoh. He was faced with the competing rule of his cousin, King Harsiese, who controlled both Thebes and the Western Oasis in Egypt. Potentially, Harsiese's kingship could have poses a serious challenge to the authority of Osorkon II, however, when Harsiese died in 860 B.C., Osorkon II consolidated his own position by appointingone of his sons, Nimlot. As High Priest at Karnak and another son, Sheshonq, as High Priest of Ptah at
Memphis. Osorkon thereby had two major priesthoods of Egypt in his family's grasp as a political move rather than from any religious motivation. Major building works were undertaken in the reign, especially at Bubastis in the temple of the cat-goddess Bastet. Other buildings in his name were constructed at Memphis, Tanis, Thebes, and Leontopolis, which was to become the capital of the succeeding dynasty.
In the outside world, a growing menace was coming from Assyria, who turned her attentions towards the Levant after taking over northern Mesopotamia and Syria. The Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III continued his father Ashurnasirpal II's campaigns into Syria/Palestine. In 853 B.C., Egypt was forced to confront the threat by aligning with Israel and neighboring kingdoms and together they halted the Assyrian advance at the battle of Qarqar on the Orontes. The exact details about this battle are unknown, and no information is available on the number of Egyptian forces involved.
Takelot II succeeded his father Osorkon II in 850 B.C, and maintained stability in the south where his half-brother Nimlot was still in power at Thebes as High Priest. All was well until Nimlot died 11 years later. Rebellions arose and had to be put down. The ringleaders in Thebes were caught and executed; their bodies burnt to ensure that there would be no hope for an afterlife.
For the next four years peace reigned, but in Year 15 of Takelot II's reign, civil war once again struck the country which would last for almost a decade. It was probably at this time that further incursions were made into the Valley of the Kings, with 'official' sanction with looters attacking the previous tombs of the Ramesside kings.
When Takelot II died, he was buried at Tanis, where he would be found by Pierre Montet in a revised coffin in the antechamber of the tomb of Osorkon II. The crown prince Osorkon never succeeded to the throne because his younger brother Sheshonq moved to seize power, proclaiming himself pharaoh as Sheshonq III. He was to enjoy an incredibly long reign of 53 years during one of the most confusing periods of Egyptian history. There was not only an initial split between north and south, Tanis and Thebes, but also a later rift between the east and the central Delta.
The 23rd and 24th Dynasties
In Sheshonq III's Year 8, roughly 818 B.C., he had to contend with a breakaway in the central Delta, at Leontopolis, where a prince named Pedibastet proclaimed and founded the 23rd Dynasty. The rulers and timelines of this dynasty are all but clear. The relationships between the rulers of both these dynasties are even more vague.
Civil war further fragmented the kingdom into separate monarchies that ruled from Herakleopolis, Tanis, Hermopolis, Thebes, Memphis, and Sais. The division made a unified defense of the country difficult and the Nubians in Kush, prepared an invasion from the south. Tefnakht, the king of Sais in the Delta, recognized this and attempted to stem the invasion by organizing a coalition of northern kings. He became the first of only two kings of the 24th Dynasty; the other was Bakenrenef (better known in Greek myth as Bocchoris who tangled with Herakles). Tefnakht probably reigned for about eight years and Bakenrenef for six.
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