Travel impressions VIII


During the same reign of  Ramses XI,  the XXth  dinasty succumbs or leaves, despite what  says the monarchist propaganda through the bas-reliefs of the temples, in fact the real power is held in one hand by a general of  libyan origin, Herihor, high priest of Amon, owner of  Upper Egypt and in the other hand, the former vizier Nesubanebdjed, (the Smendes of Herodotus), also a soldier from libyan  origin, perhaps Herihor brother, who controlled Lower Egypt.

To Ramses XI was presented  a problem with Libyan settlers established at the Delta, proud people who had not changed their names for other Egyptians and that displayed their origins preserving the ancient custom of adorning their heads with two feathers, and who in many cases did not respect basic religious precepts, such as the prohibition of eating fish, unclean thing for an Egyptian due to an Osirian tradition that sanctified the Oxyrhynchus fish (and by extension, any fish) on the grounds of having eaten the phallus of Osiris after his dismemberment at the hands of Seth. Leading these Libyans but absolutely integrated into the Egyptian social structure, were the big bosses of the “Ma” (short for “Meshwesh“), which they owned some lands, enjoyed enough wealth and planned to ignore the authority of king.

It was a time when most of people bordered the absolute poverty,  a multitude of artists, goldsmiths, painters, sculptors and artisans unemployed, because all public works had been abandoned, were fairly pissed off and staged several revolts that were stifled in exemplary way. The blinded channels, were not cleaned, nor repaired the broken levees, roads were difficult and exposed to banditry, looting of royal tombs, in this epoch was not a resource at all negligible for many, a large number of them were plundered then, despite of the very harsh punishments for looters because really, if the robber could make a fortune with his stealing, be caught did not matter because the justice had long since disappeared replaced by the oracle of Ammon and the lawsuits actually were won by dint of checkbook.
Slowly the business structure of Upper Egypt, segregated in many properties, were deteriorating, were not catered to the basic maintenance works, each one only dealing with the self-sufficiency, thus without excedents, the economy continued slowing. The economic moment of the cities of the Delta was very different since the Phoenician trade in the Mediterranean was entering its heyday, and magnates of many northern cities enjoyed great prosperity: Bubastis, Athribis, Sais, Busiris, Mendes, Sebennytos, Farbaitos (Hrbit), Per Sepeda and Buto, were the cradle of great family fortunes, some of Libyan origin which would be relevant in the future, but nothing or very little of that wealth reached to the majority of the population, dragged at the best of cases to servitude. A significant difference between the Upper and Lower Egypt was the presence of armies formed and stable only in the northern cities, the militia of the nomes of Upper Egypt due to the system of immunities, they had not obligation to meet any demands for troops from Thebes, so the Southern army resulted ineffective.

So matters stood when Amenhotep, the high priest of Amon, was charged with an offense that is not specified, a fact which can be interpreted as an attempt to regain control by the monarchy, but had to be reduced by force thanks to Panehesy troops (the “black”), Viceroy of Nubia, called for that purpose by Ramses XI. However, when Herihor, at Amenhotep’s death takes office as high priest of Amon, with the blessing of the king, who will be expelled is Panehesy. It seems that Ramses did not know very well what he did or Panehesy was too ambitious, in any case, the rise of Herihor marks the end of the Ramesside era, and the beginning of what has come to be called Third Intermediate Period or also the end of the New Kingdom.

Herihor after he was appointed viceroy of Nubia by Ramses himself to death Panehesy, ignoring the king or with his consent, thanks to a timely oracle of Ammon, took all the royal prerogatives, founding XXIth dynasty without waiting to be extinguished the XXth. He named his son Piankhi high priest of Amon, who resigned politely to royalty titles, although the latter’s son, would assume the kingship after the long reign of a son of Nesubanebdjed, Psusennes I.

In fact the royal household and the Amon pontificate since the reign of Herihor were always related and maintained a close relationship, so that the religious, economic and military power, were unified although in practice, the monarchy until the death of Ramses XI assumed the appearance of a triumvirate.
Nesubanebdjed from Tanis, represented the economic power of cities and controlled the army of the “Big chiefs of Ma”, but Herihor was, as high priest of Amun, who wielded the royal prerogatives. In short, oligarchs from the Delta concentrated the whole wealth, barricaded behind the libyan army, while the rest of the population languished, a situation that led to a popular uprising with independentists dyes, in Thebes during the reign of Pinedjem, which was suppressed, and rebels exiled to the Libyan oasis of El Khargeh. As it was probably more expensive  maintaining them in the Libyan oasis than  free them, Menkheperre, brother or maybe son of Pinedjem , manifesting its power doing some miracles, and who had come to Thebes to be invested high priest of Amon, casting accounts, ordered the execution of those who had blood crimes and free to others, thing which was proclaimed as a sample of the goodness of Amun, by means of one of these opportune oracles.

A symptom of the instability of this time, is that the Pharaohs did not hesitate to reuse the most impressive sarcophagus recovered from the looters what they seized from the tombs, such pragmatism, would be unthinkable at another era. Religion had depreciated greatly among the common people, when there is hunger, precedence other priorities, even in order to mock the clergy then, it was released a parody of sacred literature quite scabrous, known today as “The myth of Horus and Seth” . Ignoring the facts, in a flee forward, clergy proclaimed the Uhm Msut “the Age of Renaissance”, hoping to inject some hope or optimism and take back in that way for the religion its lost prestige, but this fact must be clarified: it is not that the people had become atheist, because the people always maintained a deep fervor especially around Osiris and the agrarian cult, ignoring in most cases to Amon, who was a god exclusive of the rulers of  Thebes.


Meanwhile, towards the end of the reign of Psusennes I, in Palestine, David seized the territories of Edom until the Jordan river and allying with Hiram from Tiro, established a trade route with which, though damaged the interests of Egypt, financed the kingdom of Israel, recently founded by his father-in-law, Saul, although without the consent of the priests of Adonai.
About twenty years later, after David’s death, there was a fratricidal dynastic crisis from what the pharaoh Psusennes II took advantage  to seize the Philistine citadel of Gezer, what later would give as dowry for the wedding of his daughter with Solomon in idea to establish a link between Israel and Egypt that safeguard the interests Egyptians, although at Psusennes II’s death, the policy guidelines with regard to Israel would change fundamentally. Sheshonq , Grand Chief of the Ma, from the rich family of priests of Harsafes at Bubastis, founded the XXIIth dynasty with the unconditional support of the cities of Delta, moving the capital from Tanis to Bubastis.

Apparently, the quick prosperity of Jerusalem harmed more than was expected to the commercial interests of Lower Egypt, so it is not unlikely that in reality the rise of Sheshonq was encouraged by the leaders economics of the cities of the North and at Solomon death´s and amid civil war that followed, the Bible tells that Sheshonq “fell on Jerusalem, seized the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king, took control of everything. He seized the golden shields that Solomon had ordered to make .. “.
Israel and Judea, states in which was divided the kingdom of Solomon, had to accept the Egyptian protectorate onwards and pay the corresponding tax, while for the cities of the Delta began a new period of prosperity because its ports were converted back into the target of trade routes, for a time usurped by the cities of Israel. Neither the city-state of Tire, despite having been in principle a good ally, was interested to let that Solomon divert part of the commercial flow to their emerging trade ports installed on the Palestinian coast, so it appears that the kingdom of Israel had no future, however all economies in the area had been very pleased with a military state as established by the army of David, which avoided them the expensive maintenance of a permanent military force to protect all the trade routes. The phoenician cities, who boasted during a long time of to have lost the respect for Egypt, were quick to offer their tributes, with twice intention of avoiding that Sheshonq Army was interested in them and otherwise promote the Egyptian protectorate in the area always preferable to the assyrian alternative, who beginning to raise its head again.
After the exhausting and continuous wars that Tukulti-Ninurta imposed on the country, which had allowed him to bring under the Arameans , seizing Transtigritanae (lands among the Tigris river and Armenia) and conquering Babylon, a deep dynastic crisis after the murder of the king by his son, Assur-nasir – appli, undid the emerging assyrian empire and kept the country too busy with their own internal problems, until the advent of Teglat-phalasar I, who once again forcing the assyrian military machine,  will recover Babylon again defeating to Nebuchadnezzar and will extend his empire to the Mediterranean and to the very eastern borders of Egypt.

Sheshonquide Dynasty, enjoyed wealth beyond measure, as evidenced by those solid silver sarcophagus of the time, although his influence and prestige did not go beyond of Memphis or  Heracleopolis; Upper Egypt on the other hand, lost in a terrible financial lethargy, remained in the hands of the priests of Thebes, who jealous of his lifestyle, closed the doors to the overtures of the monarchy. The feudal fragmentation was so far advanced in the Delta that henceforth, each city will recreate his own court, will worship their own local gods and will have his own army to defend their own interests even against other Egyptian cities, so then proliferated  the literature of chivalry, where heroic princes flap their weapons, with the invaluable help of some gods too human, in the style of the Iliad, the Mahabharata or Stargate.

The high priest of Heliopolis be declared sovereign and the prince of Mendes, the Per Sepeda orSais as well, although they all owed allegiance to the king, in practice, the Delta is now a bunch of independent states as in the Predynastic times. Upper Egypt alien to the military feudalism of the North, however maintains its unity around Amun and Thebes, but the fragile economic system, mainly agricultural, is permanently exposed by the lack of the commercial dynamism necessary for its development. Nevertheless, this uncertain situation would last for over two centuries, under the absence of external aggression. Sheshonq, since each of the princes of the cities rivaled in wealth, could not impose his authority outside its jurisdiction, so it focused its efforts on getting that the Theban clergy would recognize him and with that purpose appointed to his son, Iuput, as high priest of Amon, but it was useless, the clergy of Amon responded by appointing Iuput, in turn, king of the two lands. Osorkon I, the successor of Sheshonq, tried it again, in the same way, getting exactly the same result, even later, nor Takelot was able to legitimize his reign, neither Osorkon II, who then had to watch his cousin Harsiese, as high priest of Amun, proclaim himself as King of Thebes and founding in this way the XXIIIth dynasty. During the reign of Sheshonq III, Pedubast, king of Tanis, proclaimed himself as king of Leontopolis, getting be recognized by the clergy of Thebes, Memphis and Heracleopolis while Tefnakht prince of Sais, “Big Chief of the Libu” and “Big Chief of the Ma”(other sources identify him with the grandson of one Basa, a priest of a temple of Amun near Sais) takes control of the western Delta and found the XXIVth dynasty , and so during a time, three dynasties were vied, between popular revolts, epidemics, poverty and hunger, the control of the black land country.

Bibliography. : J. Pirenne “Ancient Egypt History

Heródoto “History