Travel Impressions IX

When Sheshonq I drove the leadership of the priesthood of Thebes to put in their place to his son Iuput, they took refuge in Napata, where they launched around the temple of Amun, built in Ramesside times, an administration at the Theban style around of a theocratic monarchy  commanded by the most powerful leader of the Libyan mercenaries, who were settled in Nubia by  Ramses, more than three hundred years ago, named Kashta, brother of Alara, according to sources, the seventh king of Kush, who gave rise to a system stable enough to collect taxes and back to operate the gold mines. Meanwhile in the north,  libyans princes were weakening in constant clashes, Kashta,  walked the first steps to gain control of Upper Egypt, placing to Amenirdis, his daughter, as successor to the current divine wife of Amun at Thebes and layed the foundation  to that your son, Piankhi, could establish the XXV Dynasty, also known as dynasty Kushite or Nubian.

The problem, what  maintained faced off to these local princes and what prompting that several dynasties were  overlapped in time, arose because of evolution that had occurred in the right of succession from the XVIII dynasty, when it was still possible  legitimize the monarchy by marrying with a princess of the lineage of Amun, under teogamia myth, however it appears that Osorkon III had reached a pact with the high priest of Amon, agreement that  was also tacitly accepted by all the feudal princes , by which from that moment the king’s daughter, a virgin, will be assigned to the temple of Karnak as “divine wife of Amun” so that neither the king nor the high priest could make her his consort, with what in the practice any prince could claim the divine right, by marriage . Technically Amon, in that way, retired the men’s capability to govern in his name and somehow allowed each prince could fight for the power. In reality this was not a problem for some feudal princes, who not hesitate to aspire to the monarchy by “grace” of the local god, what ultimately undermined the prestige of Amun, in fact  from long time ago it had seen very declined in favor of Ra, Ptah and Thoth, depending inversely proportional to the economic boom of the cities from which these gods were patrons, given the financial stagnation of Thebes.

Tefnakhte, determined to end that situation, brought in a coalition against Piankhi, to all the princes of the Delta, with the exception of the Prince Akanosh from Sebennytos and Petisis from Athribis, at the head of which would take over Memphis and would get the submission of the prince from Hermopolis , going ahead to Heracleopolis where the XXII dynasty still reigned. During the siege of the city, Piankhi received a request for help by means of  emissaries from Heracleopolis, which had refused to capitulate, Piankhi decided to send his army to the north, breaking up the coalition of Tefnakhte. Piankhi liberated Heracleopolis and continued “liberating” towns and rewarding those who had refused to follow the prince of Sais, showing himself piously and with studied ceremony in front of the god of every town, in order to be recognized as sovereign, a walk indeed, until that he reached Memphis, Piankhi  found there a true resistance, because the control of the city was on the hands of the civilian population and not on the priesthood ones: behind the walls awaited him the militias composed of artisans and free workers, supported by eight thousand men, soldiers and sailors who had managed to introduce Tefnakhte in the last minute, however after all, Memphis was taken by surprise and the city fleet immobilized in the own port, when the nubian troops of the king, stormed across the Nile, in a bold move that the defenders had not expected in the middle of flood season. Piankhi, returned to the priests of Memphis perquisites that had been seized and severely punished the civilian population, then continued to advance without opposition, to Sais. Tefnakhte, alone, without support, was forced to accept the ethiopian sovereignty, which it serves him to preserving intact, despite having to pay taxes, his heritage and his political influence. After this, Piankhi would retire to the South, unable to exercise full hegemony throughout, despite having forced everyone to recognize his authority, and would not return to the Delta, thereby leaving things practically as they were .

The internal crisis was manifest: in the same way that the priestly aristocracy and bourgeoisie had dispossessed  of their individual rights to the middle class when Mineptah expelled foreign slaves, The triumph of Piankhi represented the rise of the hard core of that same priestly nobility, invested with the royal power and in turn, a new economic retreat, the dispossession of feudal rights to the cities and lordships, a concentration of power that the country could not afford and in any case, the cities would not consent: Tefnakhte quickly took control of the entire Delta. His successor Bakenranef (the Bocchoris of Herodotus) only reigned five or six years, but his influence inside and outside of Egypt, was important, was a notable legislator imbued with the idea of sharing the wealth and return some individual rights to the population, aware of the urgent need to restore confidence in the administration or  maybe he was just an ambitious scoundrel who used the masses of the cities to break the power of the feudal princes and priests, perhaps it was both things, however  Greco-Roman classical authors, included him in the list of wise legislators of antiquity, despite of he made a terrible mistake, calling the attention of the Assyrian Empire when incited a rebellion in Palestine, even when he could avoid the invasion by paying tribute to Sargon II. Unfortunately to Bocchoris, King Shabaka of Upper Egypt, brother and successor of Piankhi , paid attention to the call of the priestly aristocracy of the Delta, who feared for their wealth and privilege, capturing and sending him to the stake for heresy (a practice foreign to the Egyptian custom, perhaps from Asian imprinting).

despite that Shabaka in that way, achieved  none other than reunifying again Egypt, it gives the impression that Napata wine as one of those cops who shoot first and then ask, since then, when he had inquired, avoided explicitly to Amon clergy,  getting out from Thebes, placing the royal residence at Tanis but establishing the capital at Memphis, where he tried to reinstate the solar theology around Ptah,  in detriment of feudal-priestly vision advocated by the priesthood of Amon. He funded restoration works on roads, ports and canals, with the clear intention of facilitating trade and earn the appreciation of the cities. Sais, despite the “heresy” of Bocchoris, it was not  annexed to royal estate and the son of the heretic , Necho, kept the principality of his father. Shabaka to ensure his position, as lacked a sufficient army to face Assyria,  he sent gifts to Sargon, who fortunately corresponded with other gifts, as was customary among monarchs when they sought to maintain a good relationship .

Shortly before Shabaka’s death, this good relationship would end when Sennacherib, Sargon’s successor, had to go to Palestine to crush a rebellion in the cities of Israel and Judea. King Hezekiah, to prevent the looting of Jerusalem decided to satisfy the compensation that Sennacherib demanded, but even so, the Assyrians did not raise the siege, a circumstance that  Shabataka,  Shabaka’s successor, would use as a justification for intervening in the area, so he sent his cousin Taharqa in command of the troops to face the assyrian army.  It appears that Sennacherib took as a joke the attack of the egyptian army, according to a letter that he sent to the besieged king Hezekiah, in deed, the Assyrian king  was already determined to abandon the siege of Jerusalem because of a plague that was weakening his army, even so, he defeated the Egyptian army at Ascalon and Jaffa and then go into the Delta, but Shabataka was supported by the militias of shopkeepers and workers from Tanis, thanks to which he could reject the assyrians, in front of Pelusio.  The army of Shabataka really were composed  with the troops from Upper Egypt, the northern feudals logically refused to provide their libyan forces to  the king,  they felt aggrieved becouse their privileges were being abolished, under the policy of centralization which the nubian monarchy practiced since the reign of Shabaka, were being systematically attacked by administrative way, some  aspects of feudal power, with the intention of rebuilding the administration of the New Empire, which is why the king had to be sustained with the support of the population of  the cities, who were truly interested in avoiding  the invasion of the dreaded Assyrian army.

Shabataka would be killed a little after by Taharqa, who excused his action by appealing to the right of succession that Shabaka had violated naming king to his own son, under the feudal inheritance law which stipulated that the throne belonged to the  firstborn’s lineage of Kashta, Piankhi in this case,  father of Taharqa.

For twenty five years, Assyria did not show up, and Taharqa could continue the centralizing policies , keeping pressure on the rulers of the north, going so far as to deport all theirs wives, to force them to bow to their political demands.One of those claims that faced  the monarchy to the feudals,  was precisely the right to dispose of the libyan troops of the Delta, in order to reconquer Palestine and Syria, an impossible dream, because in these times, the northern princes were fighting each other. Aware of its limited military options, Taharqa had given himself  to monumental architectural projects, perhaps hoping that with the dynastic conflict emerged at Sennacherib’s death, killed at the hands of some of his sons, would vanish the interest aroused about Egypt. Really, Assyria was always much more interested in the richest and most accessible cities from Syria,  Palestine and Babylon of course, since the main objective of the Assyrian kings, was reduced at any time in looting, the only sense of conquest was simply the spoils, unlike Egypt or Babylon, who normally considered the war only as a means to safeguard its commercial interests. The Assyrian monarchs piled the stolen wealth by war in cities like Nineveh, adorning them with glittering palaces and temples where, fortunately for historians today, came to heap up an important part of the Mesopotamian cultural heritage.  Assyria was not a state itself, was rather a production center of units for the army , Assyria in deed, just was the king and the administration cared little or nothing  the prosperity of the conquered territories, reduced practically to the collect of taxes and in the country “friends”, diplomacy only had the purpose of spying and the intrigue. War was his business, although not all that undertook were profitable, the constant border wars represented a permanent wear, particularly the conflicts with its neighbors Medes, Persians and Elamites, which at that time represented a task enough to keep the armies Assyrians away from Syria and Egypt.

Babylon revolted exploiting the death of Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon, one of his sons, had to quell the rebellion, after avenging the murder of his father. Aware of the Assyrian dynastic crisis, Taharqa seized the moment to foment rebellion in the cities of Palestine and Syria, and even dared to intervene, stupidity that attracted the interest of the Assyrian king who defeated the Egyptian army in Ekron and through a studied strategy was introduced in the Delta by the Sinai, with the invaluable support of the Bedouin, whose job was to supply the Assyrian troops with food and water during the trek through the desert, a harsh way, with the aim of avoid the citadel of Tanis and the militias of shopkeepers and free workers who prevented his father to conquer Egypt. Assarhaddon seized without resistance from the Delta, but not pursued Taharqa who took refuge at Thebes. The princes of the north accepted the Assyrian sovereignty and as compensation, Esarhaddon kept them in their places, contenting to rename cities and majors,  by assyrian names and placing the god Assur to place the head of the pantheon, also assigned a delegate Assyrian as supervisor in each prefecture. These conditions represent a novelty in the relationship of Assyria and conquered peoples, clearly designed with the intention to impose a degree of cultural uniformity to their empire, since could not expect the countries conquered through blood and fire, assimilate voluntarily  his language and customs. Apart from this, and a ridiculous tax that the rich cities could afford, the assyrian occupation was useful to the feudal princes from the Delta, since preserved the privileges that the Nubian monarchy wanted to destroy , so they were comfortable with the situation.

Nevertheless, as soon as the opportunity arose, Taharqa instigated by the clergy of Memphis launched an offensive and he captured  the town, defeating the Assyrian garrison and citizen opposition. It was a punch that found no favorable response, the princes of Lower Egypt turned him their backs and Esarhaddon found no resistance when he went back into the Delta toward Memphis. It was a real lucky for Taharqa that the Assyrian king died during the war, a fact that caused the withdrawal in disarray of the invading army , allowing govern to the king of Upper Egypt  from Memphis for about three years, until that Ashurbanipal, the successor of Esarhaddon, was ready to return to Egypt, sending as soon as he could, his army to reconquer Memphis. This time, after the capture the city the Assyrian army sailed up the Nile to Thebes course, determined to conquer the whole territory. At that time, the two most important princes of the Delta, Pakrur from Per-seped and Necho from Sais, sent  emissaries to Taharqa offering his help in exchange to divide the Egyptian territory  into three parts, the eastern Delta would be to Pakrur and the West for Neco, retaining Taharqa the Upper Egypt, but the emissaries were trapped. Ashurbanipal would attack Sais, Mendes, and Tanis, flaying and impaling a big number of princes and Necho was took prisoner to Nineveh. Thebes do not resisted, Taharqa fled to his Nubian capital, Napata, and Mentuemhat, who ruled in Thebes, accepted the assyrian sovereignty.

Ashurbanipal, aware of the prestige of Bocchoris son, treated him well and soon returned him to Sais, keeping their old privileges, Necho fact appeared to be a fan of Assyria, took for himself and his son Psamtik, assyrian names. At the death of Taharqa, was crowned in Napata, Tanutamón, the son of Shabataka (under the feudal inheritance law), who came encouraged  to turn back the situation, Thebes was not a problem but had to face Memphis’ urban militias, the assyrian garrison and a strong contingent sent by a coalition of princes of the North, but the king crushed them with his limited nubian troops and Necho died during the battle. The princes were quartered in their own nomos, but Tanutamón disappointed at having to fight against fellow countrymen, decided do not chase them. Memphis became his residence and the new situation continued, while Assurbanipal was busy “pacifying” the Elam. At one point, Pakrur, ridding himself from Assyrian control, led all the northern princes to Thebes in order to pay homage to Tanutamón, imbued perhaps by the nationalist discourse that the nubian King had adopted, all of them except the son of Necho, Psamtik, prince of Sais. Psamtik took refuge in Nineveh, convinced that the Assyrian military superiority, would break that fragile national unity, as it was: three years later Ashurbanipal was presented in Egypt and all the princes automatically surrendered, so Tanutamón was seen forced to flee, taking refuge in Napata. This time Thebes was razed and the people was killed or deported, the last vestige of the power of the priests of Amun was extinguished for ever, only the divine worshiper of God, without any political significance, escaped from the slaughter. The ruin of the “city of a hundred doors”, a fact that shocked the world and that both Greeks and Jews noted in their writings, was an event that marked the end of a dynasty and also of an era.

Ashurbanipal, once finished the Egyptian military campaign, he was condescending to the then twelve princes who was splitted Egypt, letting them do and undo as long as they comply with the tax promptly. These twelve princes had reached a mutual non-aggression agreement sanctioned by the god Ptah, according to Herodotus tells,  through an oracle in Memphis, this god had prophesied that: while they gathered the princes for the usual libations in the temple of Ptah,  whoever drank from a cup of bronze would be the king of the whole Egypt and  in one of those occasions, the high priest of the god, presented only eleven golden cups, instead of the twelve required to perform the solemn and sacred ritual, and as Psamtik was the last one to drink,  at lack of cup, without thinking in it,  used his bronze helmet,thus fulfilling the prophecy.Reading between the lines, we can conclude from the narrative, that the clergy of Memphis gambled on the monarchy unique and Psamtik  was his favorite, after all, Memphis was a dependent state of Sais and the clergy was aware of the magnificent relationship not only commercial that Psamtik kept with Lidia, which ultimately would give him the means to the success of your project, which was none other than snatch Egypt to the Assyrians and deploy the solar monarchy around Ptah, at the expense of feudalism .

Probably Ashurbanipal was confident that Psamtik, without the support of the other princes, with the ridiculous army of a local prince, would not dare challenge him, but neither he nor the feudal princes expected that Gyges, King of Lydia, then one most powerful men of their environment, would provide to the prince of Sais, enough gold and an army formed of Ionians and Carians mercenaries equipped with armors, “men of bronze” also prophetically announced. Psamtik completed his plans, in fact,  even placed the eastern border in Ashdod, in Palestine, founding the famous Dynasty XXVI, better known as the Saite dynasty.

From this moment, the Nubian dynasty, which was refuged in Napata will leave that city to found a monarchy at Ammonite style further south, at Meroe, in Ethiopian land, which eventually degenerated,  absorbing the around primitive customs , which included rituals in which, the human sacrifices were not rare.

Psamtik  got agglutinate a large army of very varied backgrounds,  commanded by Egyptian generals, enough to oust the Assyrians and beating the other princes who had no support from the citizen militias, which only bear the feudal system, because it obfuscates the trade with its privileges. Once undid the feudalism, monarchy adopted the titles, models and ways of the Old Kingdom, were applied the reforms of Bocchoris, the administration and justice were restored again, infrastructure was repaired and were opened the ways of the middle and upper Egypt. From the outset, Psamtik had the unconditional support of the cities given the social character of its reforms, which is why in the only course of his reign, Egypt again became a great power. He presented in Thebes with a huge army, where still governed the old Mentuemhat, who rush to acept his sovereignty,  and got that the divine wife of Amon, Shepenupet II, adopts to his daughter, Nitocris, as her successor, who  would change her name to Shapenupet III, eliminating thus, definitely any threat of restoring  by the clergy of Amon, the hegemony of Sais was indisputable.