The New Kingdom of Egypt

The New Kingdom is known with an intimacy that is missing from much of the rest of Egyptian history. The fact that we have the mummies of most of the kings is extraordinary enough. Moderns cannot gaze upon the dead face of Alexander or Caesar, historians wonder whether people like Moses (or Jesus) even existed, but Thutmose III, Ramesses II, and the others lie under glass in their room of the Cairo Museum. The ritual decoration of their tombs, to be sure, tells us little either about their personal lives or about the history of their reigns, but we are favored with some vivid accounts on contemporary temple decoration and in private tombs. For some of the most intriguing events of the period, like the reigns of Hatshepsut or Akhenaton, we have incomplete accounts with tantalizing uncertainties.

Chronology of the New Kingdom
Sedge & Bee
Son of Rēꜥ
Reeves &
XVIII Dynasty, of Thebes,
ꜥAhmose I
Amenḥotep I
Thutmose I
Thutmose II
Thutmose III
Battle of Megiddo, c.1478
Amenḥotep II
Thutmose IV
Amenḥotep III
Amenh,otep IV/
mery- Neferkheperure/
Queen Nefertiti?
Nefertiti Co-Regent, Year 12 of Akhenaton, until Year 3 of Tutankhamon;
or Manetho's "Acencheres," daughter of Akhenaton, perhaps for two years, name found erased on some Tutankhamon tomb items.
Queen Nefertiti?
Itnūte-Aye II
The uncertainty of dates in the New Kingdom may be seen by comparing the dates in Egypt of the Pharaohs, by Sir Alan Gardiner [Oxford University Press, 1966], The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt, by William J. Murnane [Penguin Books, 1983], and The Complete Valley of the Kings, by Nicholas Reeves & Richard H. Wilkinson [Thames and Hudson, 1996]. This contrasts with the certainty we may have about the dates of the
XII Dynasty. Intense dispute continues over existence and position of Smenkhkare, and just as much over newly identified Queen Neferneferuaton, some of whose tomb furniture seems to have been adapted for use by Tutankhamon.

Characteristic names of the XVIII Dynasty are , of which there are four, and , of which there are also four; yet the Dynasty ends with a series of idiosyncratic names, all inspired by the religious revolution of Akhenaton, who surrendred his dynastic name for a new one, which we will see in glyphs below. We get a different name, , at the beginning of the Dynasty, without a repeat until the XXVI Dynasty.

For long, no positively identified mummies of Hatshepsut, the female "king," or of the Great Heretic, or knowledge of their fate, was in our possession. Recently, however, a mummy from KV 60 has been positively identified as Hatshepsut. This was effected with the use of a canopic box, marked with Hatshepsut's name, that originally had been found in one of the great caches of royal mummies. This contained the liver and intestines of the Queen, along with a tooth, a molar, from which one root had been broken off. As it happened, the detached root was still in the jaw of the mummy in KV 60. This now answers the question of Hatshepsut's fate. The KV 60 mummy had both a pelvic tumor and a serious dental abscess. Death occurred from toxic shock when Egyptian doctors pulled a tooth (the broken molar) to drain the abscess, and the infection got into Hatshepsut's bloodstream. This can happen even with modern procedures, and it is always a matter of concern.

The nature of Hatshepsut's position can be seen in the genealogical chart included in the table. Originally, the impression was that it was through her that the bloodline of Ahmose I and the XVII Dynasty continued. However, recent opinion seems to be that it was the mother of Thutmose II, not that of Hatshepsut, who was the daughter of Amenhotep I (cf. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, by Aidan Dodson & Dyan Hilton, Thames & Hudson, 2004, p.126). If Hatshepsut had been the heiress of the legitimate dynasty, her frustration with the succession and dignity of her half-brother, Thutmose II, would be understandable. The frustration then would only have been compounded as, with his death, the succession went to a mere boy, her nephew/stepson, Thutmose III, the son of a concubine. This might have been too much. However, if Thutmose II was himself actually the bloodline heir, then Hatshepsut's actions were purely from personal ambition; and in pushing the young Thutmose III aside, and preparing for her daughter's future by marrying her to him, Hatshepsut consistently honored her father, the extra-dynastic Thutmose I, rather than the maternal ancestors of the old Theban Dynasty.
The tomb of Amenhotep II, 1969
Now this may appear as a strategy to marginalize the direct heirs of the old Dynasty.

Just who had the proper claim on Thutmose I seems to have touched a nerve with Thutmose III. It has long been believed that Hatshepsut was buried in the extraordinary, strange, winding, burrowing KV 20 and that Thutmose I was buried in KV 38, the first Tomb in the Valley, according to Thutmose's own architect. However, John Romer (Valley of the Kings, William Morrow and Company, 1981) thinks that KV 20 was actually the original tomb of Thutmose I, with its peculiarities due to its pioneering nature. Hatshepsut, as part of her identification with her father, enlarged the Tomb and added her own burial to it. Thutmose III then built a new tomb for his grandfather, like his own (KV 34) and near it, specifically to dissociate him from Hatshepsut, her additions to the tomb, and her own burial. KV 38 is a smaller version of the style of tomb that Thutmose III, according to Romer, inaugurated himself. Thutmose III may have left Hatshepsut's burial alone, or he may have been the one to remove her to KV 60, with her names struck out, to be left with the mummy of her own nurse (identified as such on her coffin). This would have been unkind treatment, but not as unkind as destroying the body.
The tomb of Amenhotep II, 1969
Another aspect to this issue is the idea that tombs for Kings turn to the left, while tombs for Queens turn to the right -- KV 20 turns to the right. But the tomb of Ramesses II turns to the right; so I am not sure this is a good criterion.

The New Kingdom is often called the "Empire" of Egyptian history. It was not, to be sure, the first period of foreign conquest. But previously this had always been undertaken by advancing up the Nile. Now, after the trauma of foreign invasion from Asia, Ahmose I and Thutmose I began raiding into Palestine and Syria, with the latter even reaching the Euphrates. After succeeding his aunt, who projected Egyptian influence more through trading expeditions (like that of the lovingly chronicled fleet sent to "Punt"), Thutmose III returned to Syria, and to the Euphrates, with every intention of establishing a more permanent presence. This seems to have been accomplished, however, more through the device of client states than of actual Egyptian garrisons. My impression is that the Egyptians just did not have their heart in foreign occupation. After all, if you like Egypt, there is not going to be anyplace else quite like it, especially off among hairy foreigners who wear woolen clothes and don't bathe. With Egypt ready to punish the disobedience of vassals with force, in the reigns of Amenhotep II through Amenhotep III, the system worked well enough. By the time of Amenhotep III, indeed, Egypt had gained such respect that punitive expeditions were no long even necessary. The principal organized opposition during this period had been from the Mitanni, with whom amicable relations were eventually established.

The Sarcophagus of Amenhotep II, found with the mummy of the King within, 1969
The tomb of Amenhotep II (KV 35), apart from containing one of the caches of Royal mummies (along with
BD 320), has continued to produce discoveries. A sealed side chamber held the bodies of several unidentified females. I believe they may have still been in there when I visited the tomb in 1969 (the photos at right and below are ones that I took). One of these women has been positively identified by DNA as the mother of Tutankhamon and a daughter of Amenhotep III and Tiye. Since it is still not clear just who she was, she is commonly called the "Younger Lady." She was probably a secondary wife, as well as half-sister, of Akhenaton -- "concubine" does not seem like the right word for a fully Royal daughter. Another body was positively identified by DNA as Queen Tiye herself (the "Elder Lady").

Something we do not hear about from the forensic examination of these Royal women is whether they were circumcised. Perhaps there is some reluctance to get into the subject. Or even to look. Nevertheless, female circumcision, which usually involved clitorectomy (or "clitoridectomy"), removal of the labia minora, and/or sewing up most of the vagina, has been quite general in East Africa and South Arabia, regardless of religion, and continues among some Copts in Egypt. I have never seen any comment about it in Ancient Egypt, affirming or denying.

But we do have the testimony of Aëtius of Amida, the personal physician of the Empress Theodora, that Egyptian medicine had recommended clitorectomy to prevent "excessive masturbation," with instructions for the operation [David Potter, Theodora, Actress, Empress, Saint, Oxford, 2015, pp.51-52]. It would be nice to know where Aëtius got this information and if Egyptian medical texts, at least one of which survives in manuscript, were ever translated into Greek and circulated. No hint of such works survives, unless we infer their existence from the reference of Aëtius. Greeks and Christians (except those Copts), of course, shunned genital alteration or mutilation, not even traditional Jewish male circumcision.

The Tomb of Amenhotep II, Anubis giving life, 1969
Fascinated with many such things, Sir Richard Burton, has a discussion of female circumcision in his Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah [1855]. As was common in his day, Burton's discussion is in Latin, to protect vulnerable minds (youthful, female, or deviant) from the harsh, or perhaps prurient, realities of sexuality. Burton relates some folk tales about its origin, sometimes as an act of revenge, and includes curious details, such as women who in adulthood continue to stitch up and unstitch their vaginas, as with shoelaces. How Burton learned some of these things might excite our curiosity in its own right. Today, we also have the narrative of Ayaan Hirsi Ali about being subjected to the practice growing up in Somalia.

Since the Egyptians undoubtedly practiced male circumcision, which engaged the alarmed interest of Herodotus, and may even account for its adoption by Israel, the extension of something similar to women would not be that surprising. But I have never noticed the question even raised, let alone answered.

When the young Amenhotep IV found his One God and became Akhenaton, (the "Spirit of the Aton"), a more pacific, or inattentive, policy unfortunately coincided with the revival and new aggressiveness of the Hittites. Mitanni was crushed by the great Suppiluliumus, and Egyptian clients in Syria began falling like dominoes, their pathetic pleas ignored but carefully preserved in the archive of Akhenaton's new capital at Amarna. Egypt thus retreats for some years into internal concerns, and the Hittites are unopposed.

The most intimate evidence of an Egyptian king is found in the largely intact tomb of Tutankhamon. Yet here frustration with the record reaches unique heights. To have the tomb, the man, and all his stuff and yet not be really certain who his father even was (now thought to be no less than Akhenaton, as confirmed by recent DNA tests), or how he died (the body has skull damage, either from murder, an accident, or the mummification process), is exasperation indeed! Just as tantalizing is the Hittite record of a young widowed queen asking for a Hittite prince to become her husband. This seem to fit Ankhesnamon, the wife and probably whole or half-sister of Tutankhamon, but Egyptian records are silent, and Ankhesnamon herself vanishes without a trace. Dynastic in-laws, Aye and Haremhab, finish the dynasty. The ritual function of the parts of Tutankhamon's tomb, and of other, more typical, royal times is examined in detail elsewhere.

We know that Akhenaton's god was "the Aton" because of an innovation in the written language initiated by Akhenaton. Classical Middle Egyptian, like Latin and Russian, did not have articles, but these ended up developing in the spoken language of New Egyptian. They begin to appear in writing in the Amarna period. They do so in a curious way among the royal names. There is no article in Akehnaton's name; and there is no article in Tutankhamon's original name, which was Tutankhaton, . No article. However, we then see the articles in the names of the royal women, such as Tutankhamon's sister, wife, and Queen, originally Ankhesenpaaton, , "She lives for the Aton." Here we get "the Aton," with the definite article pꜢ, Coptic ⲡⲁ. Why the difference? Well, I bet it is some of the sexism that we often see in the names of Egyptian women. Some of the spoken language was fine in the names of women, but not in the names of men -- the way that the poetry of Chairman Mao was published with traditional characters, not the "simplified" characters introduced for everyone else. When the names of the royal couple were changed to Tutankhamon and Ankhesenamon, the traditional god and the traditional language were equally restored -- but we have already seen that the god Aton used the definite article.

The Word "Pharaoh"

It seems to be during the reign of Akhenaton that the term "Pharaoh" comes to be used for the King. Previously, , "Great House," had simply meant the Royal Palace. From the XII Dynasty, it had been coupled with the cheer or "wish formula" used for the King [cf. Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.75]:  . So this was like saying, "The Palace -- Life, Prosperity, Health!" So when "Great House" started to mean the King, we get (with the abbreviated formula):  , "Pharaoh -- Life, Prosperity, Health!" The title turns up in the Bible in Hebrew as , Pharꜥōh, and in Greek as Φαραώ (an indeclinable noun) -- which we can see in a phrase like Φαραὼ Βασιλεὺς Αἰγύπτου, "Pharaoh King of Egypt" [Exodus 3:10]. In Arabic, we get , Firʿaun (with an irregular or "broken" plural, , Farāʿinah). Since the use of "Pharaoh" would be anachronistic for much of Egyptian history, I prefer simply using "King," for which there is a perfectly good word in Egyptian, , for all periods. The closest analogy to the development of the title "Pharaoh" would be the use of Mikado, , "Honorable/Imperial Gate," for the Emperor of Japan. "Honorable Gate" in turn sounds like term "Sublime Porte," , Bāb-i-ʿÂlī, which, however, was not used for the Sultān but simply for the Government of Ottoman Turkey. Buildings or addresses have otherwise come to mean Governments or agencies thereof, e.g. the "White House" for the American Pesidency, "Ten Downing Street" for the British Prime Ministry, and the "Quai d'Orsay" for the French Foreign Ministry; but none of these is used as a substitute for the person or title of the individual holding the relevant office.

Monarchical Acclamations

The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

XIX Dynasty, of Thebes,
Raꜥmesses I
Seti I-merenptaḥ
Raꜥmesses II-miamūn
Battle of Qadesh, 1275;
Egyptian-Hittite Treaty, 1259
Seti II-merenptaḥ
Raꜥmesses-Siptaḥ or
Ramesses I, , an elderly general and comrade-in-arms of Haremhab, was left the Throne by his childless friend. This seems to be the only example in Egyptian history of the soldierly collegiality that determined succession under the Roman
Tetrarchy. Even the Roman practice didn't last too long, although widowed Empresses marrying generals would happen every so often. We know that Haremhab himself had married into the XVIII Dynasty, but there is no evidence that Ramesses had ever been considered for such distinction.

Ramesses did not long outlive his friend, which is reflected in the truncated state of his unfinished tomb, which is much smaller than even that of Aye. His son, however, Seti I, , would prove to be a vigorous and worthy heir, the very countenance of whose mummy still seems to reflect determination and nobility, with the oddity that the family worship of the god Seth would be reflected in his name.

This produced at least one awkward situation. Seti began a massive rebuilding of the temple of the god Osiris at Abydos, his cult center. Since Seth had murdered Osiris, it struck even the Egyptians, with their tolerance of divine moral ambivalence, as a little odd that they would be putting the name of the murdering god, featured in the name of the King, all over the temple of his victim. So Seti's name in this place was changed to , the "One of Osiris," from the "One of Seth" for use on the temple.

The origin of the family in the Eastern Delta, where an Asianized Seth was popular, det to Ramesses II relocating the Capital there.
The tomb of Seti I, figure of Osiris, 1969
This was a fateful shift in the center of Egyptian political power, which never returned to Thebes. The move resulted in a new city, , the "House of Ramesses," remembered as , Raꜥamsēs in the Bible. This was built on the Pelusiac Branch of the Nile, adjacent to the old Hyksos capital of Avaris. The question of the site of Pi-Ramesse, and its fate, is discussed with the XXI Dynasty, while the question of the Exodus itself is dealt with in relation to Israel and Judah.

It used to be that one of the principal questions about the XIX Dynasty was the identity of the Pharaoh of Exodus. Ramesses II or Merenptah are still the best candidates, with Merenptah distinguished by a mention of "Israel" in his records. If Ramesses lost his firstborn son to the Passover Plague, however, it did not in the end make much difference, since he outlived his eldest 12 sons.

Of greatest interest to Ramesses II himself -- whose name would nearly take over the identity of the Egyptian Throne -- besides the building projects with which he eventually forested Egypt, was the great military adventure of his youth.
The tomb of Seti I, the King meeting Isis, 1969
After the long Amarnan hiatus and its aftermath, Ramesses returned to Syria with an Egyptian army. This incursion provocated a vigorous response from Muwatillis, who caught Ramesses in some disarray at Qadesh on the Orontes River, near the modern Lebanese-Syrian border. Reading between the lines of his boastful accounts, it looks like the king faced a humiliating and possibly crushing defeat, until the tardy arrival of a lagging division saved the day. We may credit Ramesses, however, with bravely standing his ground and rallying the troops until help arrived -- though, to be sure, Egyptian kings are always portrayed as braver in battle than any of their subordinates. While Ramesses always fondly remembered his moment of martial danger and triumph, the cost of the battle seems to have sobered both sides, and the inconclusive war eventually was in fact concluded with a treaty, roughly dividing Syria between the two kingdoms.

Merenptah, , "Loved of Ptah," Ramesses middle-aged 13th son, had long lost his own youthful vigor, and after him the events of the dynasty are obscure and confused. It is not clear who some of the people even are, or just what the real chronology is. The dozens of children of Ramasses II, as we know from other such situations, may have worked against stability.

The most charming royal tomb of the period may be that of Nefertari, , Ramesses's favorite queen who, of course, long predeceased him. The detail and perfection of the art of her tomb is clearly the best that the times and love of Ramesses could offer, though, like all royal tombs (except at Amarna), we do not get any details of their personal relationship. Access to Nefertari's tomb is now limited, because humidity from visitors, as well as from the higher water table (the result of the High Aswan Dam eliminated the low Nile of the dry season), was beginning to damage the art.

Ceiling of the burial chamber of Seti I, gods of the constellations at left, 1969 [note]
Private tombs, where the mummies, unlike New Kingdom royalty, are usually long gone, give us the most vivid details of daily life, but this is a kind of information also available for the Middle and even the Old Kingdom. Unique to the New Kingdom is an entire village, the lives of many of whose inhabitants are rather well documented over a period of more than 200 years. This was Deir el-Medina ("Monastery of the City" in Arabic), in the foothills of Western Thebes, which was the home of the scribes and artisans who worked on the Royal Tombs. Their own high level of literacy, and their preferred writing material, ostraca, have given them a voice after three thousand years that few people anywhere have had until modern times. An ostracon (a Greek word) in principle is a piece of broken pottery, but in this case it was often actually a flake of limestone from the tomb construction -- papyrus was used for documents, not for everyday scribbling. The great virtue of the ostraca is that they do not decay like papyrus.
John Romer tells the story of Deir el-Medina in his Ancient Lives, Daily Life in Egypt of the Pharaohs [Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984], which he also did as a very fine four hour television series.

XX Dynasty, of Thebes,
Raꜥmesses III-
Raꜥmesses IV-
Raꜥmesses V-
Raꜥmesses VI-
Raꜥmesses VII-
Raꜥmesses VIII-
Raꜥmesses IX-
Raꜥmesses X-
Raꜥmesses XI-
Ramesses III is the last really vivid royal personality of Egyptian history, and the last Egyptian king who appears to maintain Egypt as a Great Power of its age -- an age where the world is noticeably changing, with old powers like the Hittites simply swept away and new ranks of nations emerging, soon to dominate the events of the 1st millennium BC. Ramesses did not have to go to Syria to fight, as the new enemies came to him, by land and by sea. His victories were then, fortunately for Egypt, much more decisive than Qadesh.

The enemies this time were the intriguing "Peoples of the Sea." Since the Egyptian records name and illustrate these "Peoples," this provides fodder for considerable investigation and speculation about what was going on. The "Peoples" are identified by the Egyptians as the Peleset, the Tjekker, the Shardana, and the Denyen or Danu. It is hard not identity the "Peleset" with the Philistines. The Shardana seem to be Sardinians, who had already been used as Egyptian mercenaries. The most tantalizing prospect, however, comes with the Denyen or Danu. The name can be compared with the Danaoí, Δαναοί, which is one of the names for the Greeks in the Iliad, and the Israelite tribe of Dan, which seems unusually involved with the sea for a people that is supposed to have come out of the desert. If the Denyen are (Mycenaean) Greeks, how about the Philistines also? A tantalizing question. But not nearly as tantalizing as the possibility that the tribe of Dan was Greeks. The possibility for this opens up when we see that, according to the archaeology, the Israelites were not invaders of Palestine but mostly already in it. For scholars who doubt the Exodus altogether, this will be obvious; but it could still be true if there was an Exodus, just of a much smaller group of people than the Bible says. In those terms, the Exodites did not conquer Palestine but formed a federation of peoples who were mostly already there. The Canaanites were simply those groups who did not join, while the tribe of Dan could be an early arrival of the Peoples of the Sea who later, in larger numbers, were resisted as enemies. All this provides delightful license for everyone's imagination.

The mortuary temple and palace that Ramesses III built in Western Thebes, Medinet Habu, is the best preserved from the whole series. Only the foundations of the mudbrick palace survive,
The ceiling of the burial chamber of the tomb of Ramesses VI, showng the goddess Nut with the sun passing through her body, 1969
though this is enough to identify even the bathrooms, but the temple itself largely retains what no other temple at Thebes does, a roof. It is striking how the 3100-year-old structure is so well preserved, when of some XVIII Dynasty temples, like the only 200 year older temple of Amenhotep III, little or nothing remains.

Despite his own substantial successes, Ramesses III modeled himself after his ideal, Ramesses II. The prestige of the latter then continued through the Dynasty, all the rest of whose members used the name. It was a clinging to a fading glory, but as the power of the Kingdom declined, the names of the Kings multiplied.

The decline of the later Ramessids is palpable. Ramesses III seems to have been assassinated, though Egyptian references to such a shocking event are disguised and euphemistic. The language is so disguised that for long it was unclear whether the assassination had been successful. Now, recent examination of the mummy has revealed that Ramesses III's throat was cut. This does not appear to have been an artifact of mummification. We do have the remarkable court record from the trial of the conspirators, which gives us an otherwise unavailable view into Egyptian court proceedings. As we might imagine, the plot was a harem conspiracy over the succession. The punishment of the conspirators is also disguised by euphemism.
The tomb of Ramesses VI, the King, 1969

Nowhere is the decline of the Dynasty more clear than in the similar record that has survived of the trial of tomb robbers. The rigors of Egyptian judicial procedure are evident, with questioning of suspects under torture -- what is now called "bastinado" (from Spanish), beating the soles of the feet, what the Egyptians called -- and the corruption of local officials exposed. The nature of the punishment of the criminals is unfortunately again concealed by euphemism, although it is assumed that nothing but death, by some means, would be sufficient for the magnitude of the sacrilege.

By the next dynasty the royal tombs of the whole period had been stripped of their treasures, and all the priests could do was fix up and rebury the bodies in two caches, one of which was actually the tomb of Amenhotep II. This was a job done so well that the caches were only discovered in the 19th century. The bodies of most of the Kings of the New Kingdom thus now lie on display at the Cairo Museum. The tomb of Ramesses XI, modified from the traditional plan but apparently unused, became the last cut in the Valley of the Kings.

On the other hand, many of these tombs, no longer concealed in clefts in the cliffs (but elevated above the channels of flash floods), were open for inspection in Classical times. Especially noteworthy was the tomb of Ramesses III, where eight small chambers had been opened off the God's Third Passage and decorated with secular scenes, all but unique in Egyptian Royal tombs. Roman tourists marveled.

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Copyright (c) 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note 1;
The Tomb of Seti I

The tomb of Seti I; Horus meets Seti.
The three photos of the tomb of Seti I (
KV17) above date from my visit to the tomb in December 1969. It is my understanding that now the tomb is generally closed to the public.

When the tomb was discovered by Belzoni in 1817, it is reported to be have been in pristine condition. However, Belzoni made a critical mistake. Thinking that the "Well" probably only existed to deter tomb robbers, he filled it up with debris as he cleared the tomb. This was convenient for access, but it removed an important protection that the Egyptians had built into the structure.

Rainfall in Egypt is all but non-existent, but every so often there are flash floods.
The tomb of Seti I; bas relief of Seti with the forelock of a youth.
At the time of Seti I, the Egyptians were building tombs at the bottom of dry channels along the sides of the Valley of the Kings. Once closed, any flooding would deposit material that would help cover the entrance of the tomb and conceal its location. However, while the tomb was being built, something needed to be done to prevent flash floods from coming right down into the tomb. Thus, the Well, whatever its symbolic, ritual, or security purposes, was there to catch rain water. Later, when tombs were built up on the ridgeline, with their entrances closed and guarded but not concealed, the Well was no longer necessary and was discontinued. The tomb of Merenptah was the last one with an actual Well.

Without that protection, the next flood experienced by the Valley went right into Seti's tomb. This was particularly unfortunate because of the nature of the tomb. The largest in the Valley, Seit's tomb cut down through the strata of limestone that made the Valley attractive for these tombs, and right into the underlying layer of shale. There it stopped, since the shale would not be suitable for decorating, but it did mean that the depths of the tomb rested on open strata of shale.
The tomb of Seti I; bas relief of Seti making offerings.
When the flood waters came into the tomb, they may not have done all that much damage to the limestone and its decoration, but the shale would soak it up like a sponge. And expand.

This was very bad. The expanding shale pushed up on the columns and other limestone structure of the tomb, cracking the rock and potentially destabilizing the whole construction. Given sufficient time, perhaps the shale would dry out and relieve the pressure. But the damage had been done.

This also complicates one of the major mysteries of the tomb. Under the burial chamber, a narrow tunnel descends through the shale. No one knows what it is for, or even where it goes. No one has been able to get to the end of it. There is nothing like it in any other known tomb. The native shale was fragile enough, but after it had been soaked and loosened by flood water, attempts to explore this tunnel became even more difficult and perilous. What this would call for is a foot by foot shoring up of the shale, probably with the tubular sections such as are used for auto and railroad tunnels. The scale would be much smaller, but certainly the expense and difficulty would be great, with the added danger of damaging the upper tomb while this was going on.
The tomb of Seti I; unfinished bas relief and text, ascending out of the tomb.
It would be nice to know, however, where that tunnel goes. There is a good chance, however, that it just ends at some point, with the original idea, whatever it was, abandoned.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the tomb gradually inflicted its own damage. As we can see in my photos, if the tomb was pristine when discovered, its decoration is now very damaged. This has motivated closing it. Which is a shame, but probably wise and inevitable.

But there may be a remedy. Belzoni himself took impressions of the entire tomb (which probably caused some damage in its own right) and reconstructed it in London. This should be done again. Since the "Theban Mapping Project" has scanned the entire tomb with lasers, and photography has certainly captured the color of every square inch, I don't see why a wealthy museum, like the Getty in Los Angeles, should not recreate the whole thing. At the same time, access tunnels can be place alongside those of the tomb, providing electricity, ventilation,
The tomb of Seti I; incomplete cutting of painted text, ascending out of the tomb.
and handicapped access through invisible doors to each level of the tomb.

This can now be done without a single new insult, or even touch, to the original tomb. And it would provide something for the public hitherto only available to those able to visit Egypt, namely, to see a full sized Royal Egyptian tomb in just the form that the Egyptians would have left it. One difficulty, of course, is that the Egyptians didn't bother finishing features that would not be needed by the dead King, like the floor. The floor of all Egyptian tombs is very uneven. I think that this should be reproduced just as it is, but then it can be covered with a transparent layer of plastic, providing a smooth walkway, which would nevertheless look like the original floor.

This idea is already out there in The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child [2006],
The tomb of Seti I; Entrance
where there is supposed to be a complete Egyptian tomb in the basement of the "New York Museum of Natural History" on Central Park West. This is a thinly fictionalized version of the American Museum of Natural History, where Preston actually used to work. The tomb, brought from Egypt, is not supposed to be a Royal tomb, but it is supposed to be exactly like one, of which there are actually no known examples. A reconstructed tomb, however, can mirror any authentic one, with that of Seti I as the best candidate for the project.

Here, all I can do is include some of my photographs, showing the state of the tomb in 1969, as I found it then, with much of the damage visible. Fortunately, the tomb is preserved as it is, unlike the vandalism and destruction we've seen at Palmyra, where my photographs are of things that have been blown to bits by fanatics.

At the Alabaster Coffin of Seti I,
the Soane Museum, London, 2005
In a footnote to the visit to the Tomb of Seti I, here I am in 2005 visiting the Soane Museum in London, which holds the alabaster coffin of Seti I. This is generally called a "sarcophagus" of Seti, but the actual rectangular sarcophagus was lost at sea on the way to London. The alabaster coffin lay within it, the way Tutankhamon's gold coffin lay in his sarcophagus. You don't see much of the coffin in this photograph, because we are not supposed to take pictures, so all we got away with was the picture of me standing by the glass case containing the coffin. Meanwhile, the Museum has remounted the exhibit, with the coffin out of the case, on four pillars, as one can see at the Museum's website. If this is the permanent exhibit, however, it leaves one side of the coffin hidden from view. At the time, the Museum displays were in the Victorian form of using every surface for artifacts, as is evident on the wall in the background.

Return to text

Egyptian Royal Tombs of the New Kingdom, Note 2

With the canopic chest, the theme of fours in Egyptian thought and ritual is the most conspicuously manifest. While the embalmed heart was returned to the chest of the deceased, the liver, lungs, stomach, and intestines were separately packaged, coffined, and stored. Each of these was then under the protection of one of the Sons of Horus, Imset (or Amset) for the liver, Hapi for the lungs, Duamutef for the stomach, and Kebekhsenuf for the intestines. Stone canopic chests typically have four chambers for the four coffins, closed with four stoppers, which themselves are either in the form of four human or of one human and three animal heads. With Tutankhamon we are fortunate to have the further equipment of the gilt shrine and sledge for the canopic chest, and the four guardian goddesses who watch over the whole, each identified by a symbolic device on her head:  Isis watching over the liver from the southwest, her sister Nephthys watching over the lungs from the northwest, Neith, the ancient goddess of Sais, watching over the stomach from the southeast, and finally Serket, a scorpion goddess, watching over the intestines from the northeast. The figures of these goddesses are masterpieces of art, now available in endless reproductions.

Return to text

Note on Sons of Horus in "Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes"

Psychological Types

Egyptian Royal Tombs
of the New Kingdom, List

Some of the comments here are from Baedeker's Egypt [Prentice Hall Press, no date], which gives a numerical list of all the tombs.

Tomb KV 1  Ramesses VII
Tomb KV 2  Ramesses IV, surviving papyrus plan
Tomb KV 3  a son of Ramesses III
Tomb KV 4  Ramesses XI
Tomb KV 5  sons of Ramesses II (reëxamined, 1989)
Tomb KV 6  Ramesses IX
Tomb KV 7  Ramesses II
Tomb KV 8  Merenptah
Tomb KV 9  Ramesses V & VI; tomb of "Memnon" to Greek travelers
Tomb KV 10  Amenmesse(s)
Tomb KV 11  Ramesses III, begun by Setnakht
Tomb KV 12  anonymous royal family tomb crossing over Ramesses VI
Tomb KV 13  Bay (chancellor to Siptah & Twosret)
Tomb KV 14  Twosret (& Seti II?), taken over by Setnakht
Tomb KV 15  Seti II

The previous tombs were open in antiquity or before formal archaeology.
Most of the following have their dates of discovery.

Tomb KV 16  Ramesses I, 1817
Tomb KV 17  Seti I, 1817
Tomb KV 18  Ramesses X
Tomb KV 19  Ramesses Montuhirkopeshef (Ramesses VIII?), 1817
Tomb KV 20  Thutmose I and Hatshepsut, the first tomb in the Valley, 1799
Tomb KV 21  two XVIII Dynasty queens, 1817
Tomb WV 22  Amenhotep III in Western Valley, 1799
Tomb WV 23  Aye (originally Tutankhamon) in Western Valley, 1816
Tomb WV 24  anonymous in Western Valley
Tomb WV 25  possibly Akhenaton's original tomb in Western Valley, 1817
Tomb KV 26  1898
Tomb KV 27  XVIII Dynasty family tomb, 1898
Tomb KV 28  1898
Tomb KV 29  1899
Tomb KV 30  XVIII Dynasty family tomb, 1817
Tomb KV 31  1817
Tomb KV 32  1898
Tomb KV 33  1898
Tomb KV 34  Thutmose III, 1898
Tomb KV 35  Amenhotep II, 1898
Tomb KV 36  Mahirpra, 1899
Tomb KV 37  anonymous, 1899
Tomb KV 38  Thutmose I (relocated by Thutmose III from KV 20), 1899
Tomb KV 39  possibly tomb of Amenhotep I, 1899
Tomb KV 40  anonymous, 1899
Tomb KV 41  anonymous, 1899
Tomb KV 42  Hatshepsut-Merytre (wife of Thutmose III), 1900
Tomb KV 43  Thutmose IV, 1903
Tomb KV 44  XVIII Dynasty, but containing Tentkaru of XXII Dynasty, 1901
Tomb KV 45  Userhet (XVIII Dynasty), 1902
Tomb KV 46  Yuya & Tuya, parents of Queen Tiye, 1905
Tomb KV 47  Siptah, 1905
Tomb KV 48  Vizir Amenemopet (XVIII Dynasty), 1906
Tomb KV 49  XVIII Dynasty, 1906
Tomb KV 50-52  anmial burials, 1906
Tomb KV 53  1905/06
Tomb KV 54  Tutankhamen cache, 1907
Tomb KV 55  Amarna cache (Akhenaton?/Tiye?), 1907
Tomb KV 56  "Gold Tomb," jewelry cache from reign of Seti II & Twosret, 1908
Tomb KV 57  Haremhab, 1908
Tomb KV 58  1909
Tomb KV 59  "tomb commencement" pit
Tomb KV 60  Sitre-in & Hatshepsut (confirmed), 1903
Tomb KV 61  1910
Tomb KV 62  Tutankhamon (originally Aye), 1922
Tomb KV 63  XVIII Dynasty, five coffins, 2006 
Tomb KV 64  XVIII Dynasty, princess & XXII burial of singer of Amon, 2011
Tomb KV 65  XVIII Dynasty, unexcavated site

Tomb DB 320  Royal Cache of Deir al-Baḥri 

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Copyright (c) 1997, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2018 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings of Babylonia

Agum I
Kashtiliash I
Kashtiliash II
Kassite Dynasty or
Dynasty III of Babylon
Agum II?c.1570
Burna Buriash I
Ulam Buriash?c.1475
Conquest of Sealand
Kashtiliash III?
Agum III?
Kadashman-harbe I
Kurigalzu I
Kadashman-Enlil I1374?-1360
Burna Buriash II1359-1333/
Amarna Correspondence
Kurigalzu II1345-1324
Kadashman-Enlil II1279-1265
Kashtiliash IV1243-1235
Assyrian governors, 1235-1227
Kadashman-Harbe II1223
Adad-shuma- iddina1222-1217
Marduk-apal- iddina I1173/1-
Zababa-shuma- iddina1161-1159
Enlil-nadin- shhē1159-1157
Dynasty IV of Babylon
or Dynasty II of Isin
Marduk-kabit- ahhēshu1156-1139
Nebuchadrezzar I1124-1103
Marduk-nadin- ahhē
Marduk-shapik- zēri
Nabū-shum- libur1032-1025
Dynasty V of Babylon, or
Dynasty II of the Sealand
[2 kings]1007-1004
Dynasty VI of Babylon, or
Dynasty of Bazi
Eulma shakin-shumi1003-987
[2 kings]986-984
Dynasty VII of Babylon, or
Elamite Dynasty
Dynasty VIII of Babylon
festivals suspended because
of Aramaean invasions,
Dynasty VIII (IX) of Babylon, or
Dynasty of E (Mixed Dynasties)
Ninurta-kudurri- uṣur II942-941
Mār-bīti- ahhē-iddina941-?
Shamash- mudammiq?-c.900
Nabū-shuma- ukin I899-888?
Nabū-apla- iddina887-855?
Marduk-zakir- shumi I854-819
Assyrian influence, 853
Interregnum, or 5 kings?
Marduk-bēl- zēri
Chaldean Kings
Dynasty IX of Babylon
Chaldeans occupy
Babylon, 734
Nabu-shuma-ukin II732
Dynasty X (IX) of Babylon
Dynasty X of Babylon
Assyrian conquest, 728
Tiglath-pileser III728-727
Shalmaneser V726-722
Marduk-apal-iddina II, Merodach- Baladan721-710
Sargon II709-705
Marduk-apal- idinna II703-702,
Ashur-nadin- shumi699-694
Sennacherib sacks Babylon, 689
Shamash-shum- ukin667-648
Son of Esharhaddon,
in revolt, 652-648
Vassal of Ashurbanipal
Sin-shumu- lishir?627/626
Sin-shar- ishkun
interregnum, 627-626
Sealand I Dynasty or
Dynasty II of Babylon
[5 kings]
Conquest by Kassites
The "Sealand" Dynasty is very poorly known but has a certain pride of place as following the original Babylon I, even though it may never actually have been seated at Babylon. What the "Sealand" is supposed to be may be the most important thing about it. This is the marshland in the South of Iraq, covering the floodplain between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, before they reach the Gulf. This puts the Sealand in the area of "Babylonia," even if only retrospectively. Numbering the dynasties, of course, is only a device of modern historians, in imitation of the
Egyptian dynasties, whose numbering was ancient.

The marshlands are an excellent area for people escaping authority further North, whether political refugees or just robbers. Thus, escaped slaves in the area, and just robbers, ended up rising in the great Zanj Rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate (869-883). This made almost any other slave revolt in history look like small potatoes.

Nevertheless, it was not just a matter of transients. A distinctive culture developed among people who became known as the "Marsh Arabs," or , Maʿdān, the "Plain Dwellers." Amid the reeds of the marshes, everything became built of reeds. Homes, mosques, boats, everything. It was an extraordinary place and people.

I say "was" because its value as a politial refuge got the hostile attention of Saddam Hussein. After the Gulf War (1990-1991), when Hussein was allowed to suppress a Shiʿite rebellion in the South, the government diverted the rivers and drained the marshes, rendering them deserts. The Marsh Arabs were driven out or slaughtered, and all their villages abandoned, burned, or otherwise destroyed.

After Hussein was overthrown in 2003, the diversion of the flow of the rivers away from the marshes was undone. The land slowly is being restored, and the Maʿdān are returning. However, what was destroyed, ecologically and culturally, will not return overnight. And many of Marsh Arabs may prefer not to return to the marginal way of life that the marshes allowed. After all, these were not communities with electricity or other modern amenities.

The Kassites were a people of neither Semitic nor Indo-European linguistic identity. They belonged to a group of languages, such as still survive in the Caucasus, whose larger affinities are still unknown but that in former times stretched from the Caucasus all the way down to the Persian Gulf and whose first attested member was Sumerian. A map of these groups is featured here at right. Only the redoubt of the Caucasus preserved such groups beyond ancient times.

We might see the ethnic dominance of the Kassites in Babylon as a kind of "Sumeria strikes back," since the Semitic Akkadians had overwhelmed the ethnic Sumerians. It is hard to know if the Kassites had any affinities to the Sumerians, Elamites, Hurrians, or any of the other non-Semitic, non-Indo-European people in the area. The Kassites were rapidly assimilated to Babylonian civilization, but the other groups subsequently also had periods of prominence.

It was long thought that the Kassites, like the Mitanni, had an Indo-European/Iranian warrior nobility. The evidence for this was thin, and the tendency now seems to be to discount the possibility [cf. Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC, Routledge, 1995, 2000, volume I, pp.333-334], although some influence is unmistakable.

The Kassites were the longest lasting Babylonian dynasty. Because of the relative dearth of information, it was long thought to be a period without much in the way of cultural development. However, it now appears that the Kingdom stretched all the way to Baḥrain and accomplished much in the way of the cultural unification of Lower Mesopotamia -- which now simply and truly becomes "Babylonia," more than just the imperial possession of a city-state. So the irony that the Kassites were not Babylonians, but lose their identity among them, is acute.

Babylonian diplomatic correspondence with Egypt, conducted in the Akkadian languge, is found in the Amarna archive, telling us rather more about the Babylonian Kings than we know from the records in Babylonia. This was one of the unintentionally benefits of the abandonment of Amarna.

747 BC; 2013 AD + 747 =
2760 Annō Nabonassari
Nabū- Nāṣir,
747-7331 AN
733-73115 AN
Ukīn-zēr & Pulu,
Khinzēr & Póros
731-72617 AN
726-72122 AN
Marduk- apaliddina,
721-70927 AN
Sargon II
709-70439 AN
no kings704-70244 AN
702-69946 AN
Ashur- nadinshum,
699-69349 AN
693-69255 AN
Mushezib- Marduk,
692-68856 AN
Assyrian sack and
destruction of
Babylon, no kings
688-68060 AN
680-66768 AN
Shamash- shumukīn,
667-64781 AN
647-625101 AN
625-604123 AN
604-561144 AN
Awēl Marduk,
561-559187 AN
669-555189 AN
555-538193 AN
Cyrus the Great538-529210 AN
Cambyses529-522219 AN
Darius I521-486227 AN
Xerxes I486-465263 AN
Artaxerxes I
465-424284 AN
Darius II424-405325 AN
Artaxerxes II
405-359344 AN
Artaxerxes III
359-338390 AN
Arses338-336411 AN
Darius III
336-332413 AN
Alexander (III)
the Great
332-324417 AN
Philip (III)324-317425 AN
Alexander (IV)317-305432 AN
Ptolemy I Soter I305-285444 AN
Ptolemy II
285-247464 AN
Ptolemy III
247-222502 AN
Ptolemy IV
222-205527 AN
Ptolemy V
205-180544 AN
Ptolemy VI
180-146568 AN
Ptolemy VIII
Euergetes II
146-117603 AN
Ptolemy IX
Soter II
117-81632 AN
Ptolemy XII
Neo Dionysus
81-52668 AN
Thea Philopator
52-30 BC697 AN
Augustus30 BC-
14 AD
719 AN
Tiberius I14-36762 AN
Caligula36-40784 AN
Claudius I40-54788 AN
Nero54-68802 AN
Ephemeral Emperors not counted
Vespasian68-78816 AN
Titus78-81826 AN
Domitian81-96829 AN
Nerva96-97844 AN
Trajan97-116845 AN
Hadrian116-137864 AN
Antoninus Pius137-160885 AN
Of great interest in the period after the fall of the Kassites is the beginning of the chronology later preserved in the Canon of Kings, compiled by Greco-Roman astronomer
Claudius Ptolemy.

Passed on by Hellenistic Babylonian priests, like Kidunnu and Berossos, were astronomical observations dating back to the reign of Nabonassar, Nabūnāṣir, Ναβονάσσαρος, starting in 747 (Dynasty IX of Babylon). The names of some kings have gotten somewhat garbled in Greek translation -- the Babylonian and Assyrian equivalents are given by E.J. Bickerman, Chronology of the Ancient World [Cornell University Press, 1968, 1982, pp.109-110]. The dates were given in number of regal years.

Although there was long some scepticism about the accuracy of the Canon, the dates of the astronomical events can now be confirmed by modern calculation, and, from Assyrian records, extended to earlier periods.

This makes the reign of Nabonassar the foundation of all Mesopotamian chronology. What Ptolemy did with this, however, made it the basis of all ancient chronology, since he extended the list all the way down through the Persian kings, the Ptolemies, and the Roman Emperors to his own time (in the reign of Marcus Aurelius).

This made it possible to date events in the Era of Nabonassar, though for the dates Ptolemy, who lived in Egypt, used the unmodified Egyptian calendar, which had a 365 day year, without leap years. So the Nabonassaran calendar gains a year on the Julian calendar every 1460 years (the "Sothic cycle"). The virtue of this practice was that a count of whole days could be produced simply by multiplying the Nabonassar date by 365. Modern astronomy just eliminates a step by using Julian Day Numbers.

In 2020, the Ptolemaic or Sothic Nabonassaran year 2769 begins on April 18th. In purely solar years, such as the Babylonian calendar used itself, 2020, beginning on April 25/26, would be only Nabonassaran year 2767.

Using the Seleucid Era, which was adopted at Babylon in the Hellensitic Age and long used by Jewish communities, 2020 would begin in the year 2331 (Annō Seleucidae), which started in September or October 2019. Since the Babylonian year begins in the Spring, there is often confusion about whether the Greek Seleucid year had already begun the previous Fall, or would not begin until the Fall after the Babylonian year began. This even complicates the historical record, since we see both 212 and 211 BC as the years when Seleucus seized Babylon.

The Canon of Kings follows the Ptolemies rather than the Seleucids, but historically the Seleucid Era does seem to have been the first continuous Era in common use. Dating by Olympiads or the Founding of Rome (AUC, annō urbis conditae) was only used by later historians. The Era of Nabonassar, despite its neutrality in terms of the religious Eras, would only be used by astronomers.

I have considered the ease with which the Canon could be extended through the rest of the Roman Emperors all the way to 1453, and then with the Ottomans until 1922. There would be no practical use for this.

The list and dates here, as previously for Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon I, are from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin, 1966, 1992, pp. 507-512] and Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC [Routledge, 1995, 2000, Volume II, p.576]. There are some curious differences between the 1966 and the 1992 editions of Roux, which he does not discuss. Kuhrt has some updated information and a more transparent diagram, but doesn't name all the kings. The chronology is poorly known. I have previously discussed questions about the accuracy of the dates.

The treatment of the king lists in A History of Babylon, 2200 BC-AD 75, by Paul-Alain Beaulieu [Wiley Blackwell, 2018] was very disappointing for the earlier periods. On this page, however, starting with the Kassites, we see considerable revisions from the lists originally in Roux. The fragmentary knowledge of the early Kassites is well represented by Beaulieu, and I have not even tried to reproduce his treatment, which is all uncertain anyway. But I have made some modifications with an eye on his list. Also, when we begin to get dates, Beaulieu diverges considerably from Roux, reducing to a difference of only a couple of years by the end of the Kassite period.

These sources often do not include the diacritics for phonemes that are otherwise familiar from Semitic languages. I have tried to supply a few from various sources; and Wikipedia, here as elsewhere, is at the forefront of providing full readings, as well as representations in cuneiform and other relevant writing systems. I have not been able to do this as thoroughly or as consistently as I would like. Wikipedia king lists even give the cuneiform for each king.

Thus, the king list here can now be compared with the version to be found at Wikipedia. Most noteworthy may be the difference in the numbering of the Babylon Dynasties. Thus, Beaulieu begins Dynasty VIII with Nabū-mukin-apli (977-942), calling it also the "Dynasty of E," which name is explained as an artifact of the document "King List A," with no more than a guess about what it means, "the term E referring probably to Babylon" [p.178]. However, at Wikipedia Dynasty VIII features Nabū-mukin-apli alone, and the Dynasty of "E" begins Dynasty IX with Ninurta-kudurri-uṣur (942-941), with an uncertain reign c.943. This adds a number that ultimately bumps the Neo-Babylonian Period from being Dynasty X to being Dynasty XI, which had already been a possibility.

Meanwhile, we have variations in the numbering between VIII, IX, and X. Since Beaulieu uses Babylon X for the Neo-Babylonian Period, we get everything from Nabū-mukin-apli to the Fall of the Assyrians under just Dynasty VIII and IX. He begins Dynasty IX with Nabū-mukin-zēri (731-729). My objection to this is that it puts Nabū-naṣir, or Nabonassar (747-734), at the tag end of Dynasty VIII, even though he looms large in all our records and chronology, where, as we will see, he actually begins the Canon of Kings. This seems improper to me; yet the Wikipedia treatment does the same thing, although its numbering is for Dynasty IX. The judgment at Wikipedia is that Dynasty X should be entirely Assyrian, beginning with Tiglath-pileser III (728-727).

My judgment is that Nabū-naṣir, for his historical importance, must begin Dynasty IX. Even Beaulieu says, "the reign of Nabonassar was remembered in the classical tradition as a turning point in the development of Babylonian science and scholarship" [p.190]. Also, we get the assertion that the previous king, Nabū-shuma-ishkun, was a Chaldean, and that Nabū-naṣir restored native Babylonian rule. This seems significant, even if much the same kind of thing happened at other times. This means that Dynasty VIII must extend beyond Nabū-mukin-apli, unlike the Wikipedia treatment. Where we start Dynasty X then does not matter to me. I simply note the alternatives, whether or not we include the King overthrown by the Assyrians, Nabū-mukin-zēri, or bundle him into the previous Dynasty. Since Dynasty X is not going to be exclusively Assyrian anyway -- everyone includes Babylonian and Chaldean rebels as proper Kings of Babylon in opposition to the Assyrians -- I don't see a significant difference.

Just as lower Mesopotamia became "Babylonia" under the Kassites, the rest of the table here is in a sense the entire history of Babylonia, falling between the mere successful city state of Babylon I and the melancholy fin d'histoire of the relatively brief Neo-Babylonian period.

And as we follow the table here, we begin to see the encroachment of Assyria. The last years of the Babylonian dynasties are troubled by the gradual ascendency and then conquest by the Assyrians of the Neo-Assyrian Period, which began in 911 BC. Babylonia became increasingly subject to Assyria, with Tiglath-pileser III occupying Babylon and installing himself as King in 728 (Dynasty X).

Once dominant, the Assyrians at first treated Babyon with something of the respect of an elder brother, as the Romans did the Greeks. However, this may have been equal parts respect and resentment -- as with the Romans and the Greeks again -- and the tendency of the Babylonians to revolt, something the Assyrians always found deeply offensive, eroded Assyrian tolerance, such as it was. This culminated in the destruction of Babylon by Sennacherib in 689 BC. The city was rebuilt by Esaraddon, but the gods of Babylon were not reinstalled in their own temples until Ashurbanipal, who was pleased to display respect for the past, even boasting of his ability to read Sumerian.

Under Ashurbanipal, Babylon was governed by his brother, Shamash-shum-ukin, who, however, rose in revolt in 652, requiring a protracted and costly seige, which ended in his suicide. It is tempting to see Shamash-shum-ukin "going native" and beginning to identify with Babylon to the extent of championing its own identity and independence. For all we know, this may have been it.

The new King of Babylon, Kandalanu, may simply be a name taken by Ashurbanipal -- although his reign is dated to outlast the Assyrian King by four years. So we may just not know who he was, or why Ashurbanipal installed him in Babylon.

As Assyria began to collapse after the death of Ashurbanipal, confusion briefly reigned in Babylon, with transient occupations by rebels and twilight Assyrian kings, until the Neo-Babylonian Chaldean Dynasty took possession, under whom Babylon would gain new vigor and would participate in the final overthrow the Assyrians themselves in 609, erecting a New World Order that, however impressive, lasted less than a century.

Babylonian Kings Continued

Babylonian Numbers and Measure

Despite the problems of conflict between Babylonia with Assyria, the influence of Babylonian civilization continued to spread. One area of greatest influence, which is still with us today, is the application of Babylonian mathematics in measurement and in weights. Thus, the Sumerian and Babylonian system of counting uniquely used a base of 60, in contrast to the base 10 used by all other historic cultures -- except the Mayans, who used 20. This was sexagesimal as opposed to decimal or vigesimal counting -- although, as we see in the table, the system of notation combined sexagesimal and decimal elements in ways that may now seem confusing and ambiguous.

The advantage of the base sixty was that the number not only has prime factors of 2 and 5, like ten and twenty, but also 3 -- i.e. 22 x 3 x 5 = 60. This allows for the simple expression for a large number of fractions, which actually would be even more convenient today, in the use of Arabic numerals, that it was for the Babylonians. Sixty, however, is an awkwardly large number. A base of thirty still would have had the factors 2, 3, and 5 without being quite as cumbersome.

Nevertheless, the sixties are still with us. We still count 60 seconds to a minute and 60 minutes to an hour. The hours we use, however, are Egyptian rather than Babylonian. The Babylonians counted 12 hours in a day, so each was a "double hour." The Egyptians used 12 hours for daylight and 12 hours for night, founding the 24 hour day. We also still divide the circle into 360 degrees, which is 60 x 6, and a degree of arc is subdivided into 60 minutes of arc, with a minute of arc divided into 60 seconds of arc. A second of arc is the basis of the parallax second, or Parsec, as a unit of astronomical distance -- but the Babylonians knew nothing about that. The appeal of 360 degrees to a circle must have been due to how close it was to the length of the solar year. Even the Mayans used 360 (the "tun") in their calendar cycles.

Over the centuries, one other base of counting came close to adoption, and that was to use the number 12, the duodecimal base. The virtue of twelve is that it is very close to ten, and that it has the prime factors of 2 and 3. It is, however, missing 5; so perhaps one needs to ask whether three may be more useful than five. Nevertheless, although twelve never became a base for counting, we do find it used in some customary measures, like 12 inches to a foot; and sixty, in the many places it is used, is of course simply 12 x 5. So we often have twelves in the mix of our calculations.

Meanwhile, counting to the base 16, hexadecimal counting, has become quite common, although this number only has one prime factor, 2 (i.e. 24), and has come to be used only because of the binary counting system used in modern computers. It is therefore convenient when dealing with computers, but not really for any other mathematical puposes. However, there is some evidence that the system of weights used by the Indus Valley Civilization was based on binary increments, building up to 16. A possible continuation of this may be evident in Indian coinage, which was build around coins that doubled value, from the Anna to the Rupee, which was worth 16 Annas. Similarly, the Anna was divided in half down to 1/8 Anna, or the 1/2 Pice -- although the binary system is then spoiled by dividing the 1/4 Anna into 3 Pies.

Gk. ,
60 minas,
c.60 lb.,
c.875 oz.t.
minamanum, ,
Gk. ,
60 shekels,
c.1 lb.
shekelshiqlum, ,
Gk. ,
180 grains,
c.116.7 gr.
grainuṭṭarum, c.46.3mg,
c.0.65 gr.
Another area of Babylonian influence, which spread widely in the Ancient World, was in weights. Here we find units that may be the most familiar from the Bible, but were also still used by the Greeks. There were 60 "shekels" to a "mina," and 60 minas to a "talent." Since a mina was about 500 metric grams, or about one Avoirdupois pound, a talent would be a good 60 pounds. Since we often hear of talents of gold or silver, we might be curious what such things would be worth now. An Avoirdupois pound (7000 grains) is 14.58 Troy ounces (480 grains per Troy ounce), which are used to measure gold and silver today. So a talent of gold, about 60 pounds, would be 875 Troy ounces. With gold running up to $1700 an ounce, a talent of gold would be about $1,485,000, enough money to make most people's day. Silver is about $30 an ounce; so a talent of silver would be around $26,250 -- nothing to sneeze at. The Babylonian system also had a "grain" weight, of which 180 (= 60 x 3) were a shekel, and this had a value of slightly more than half of a modern customary grain, used by both Avoirdupois and Troy weight.

Today it is common to think of a "shekel" as a coin, but neither the Babylonians nor the Assyrians ever minted coins. These were invented by Lydia and then swiftly taken up by the adjacent Greek cities of Ionia. The systems of Greek coinage, based on Babylonian weights, are discussed elsewhere.

Information on the Babylonian number system, weights, and measures is from A Manual of Akkadian, by David Marcus [University Press of America, 1978, §6.18 & §18.7], the Introduction to Akkadian, by Richard Caplice and Daniel Snell, Appendix II, "Numbers, Dating, Measures" [Fourth Edition, Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Roma, 2002, pp.94-95], and now Euler's Pioneering Equation, by Robin Wilson [Oxford, 2018, pp.14-16,29]. The discussion in the first of these sources is insufficient to explain how ambiguity can always be avoided, for instance in the use of the sign , in the absence of zero, for both the number 1 and the number 60. And, as we see in the examples for writing 208,000 and 200,150 above, which are both cited by Marcus [p.95], and so presumably are attested in Akkadian usage, numbers may be written entirely in decimal terms, without a hint of the sexagesimal system. In Caplice and Snell, we have several examples [p.94] of ambiguity, for instance that can mean either 2 or 120 (i.e. 2 x 60). None of the authors discusses the difficulties that attend these mixed systems or the accompanying ambiguities. The problem is addressed by Georges Roux [Ancient Iraq, Pelican Books, 1966]:

...but unfortunately, the decimal system was also used within units of the sexagesimal one, and the figure 'zero' was unknown until the Seleucid period. The interpretation of Mesopotamian problems is therefore often fraught with difficulty, even for experts, and we must assume that in many cases the students were verbally supplied with the necessary indications. [p.330]

We must note that the disambiguation of business accounts, with possible legal overtones, is not something that prudence or common sense would leave to be "verbally supplied." Also, when Roux says that "'zero' was unknown until the Seleucid period," we must wonder if he is aware of what he is saying. The general impression is that the use of zero was not introduced in the Middle East and the West until al-Khuwārizmī (c.780-850 AD) got the idea from India. If a form of zero was used in cuneiform numbers under the Seleucids, when there certainly would have been considerable commerce, including of ideas, with India, this is a matter of some great historical significance, even if the matter was forgotten, with cuneiform itself, and nothing came of it. There is no hint about the use of a zero in Marcus or Caplice and Snell.

Robin Wilson, who is an actual mathematician, and a historian of mathematics, gives a more satisfying treatment of Babylonian numbers, despite its brevity and summary treatment in an unrelated book. Thus, he says that an attempt to avoid ambiguity in writing numbers was made by leaving an obvious gap between numbers representing the different powers of 60. The example he gives of a number is , where 602 is 3600, 12 times 60 is 720, and then this is added to the units, 37, to get 4357. Excellent. If we simply leave out an intermediate power, as in , then we get 3600 + 37 = 3637. This is fine, as far as it goes, but we must wonder how often a space between numbers could be counted as a "gap" when it wasn't, or as an inconsequential space when it was supposed to be a place-holding gap.
Kings of Assyria
Hurrian occupation, c.1680
Sharma-Adad I1673-1662
Sharma-Adad II1601
Erishum III1598-1586
Shamshi-Adad II1585-1580
Erishum III
Shamshi-Adad II
Ishme-Dagan II
Shamshi-Adad III
Ashur-nirāri I1547-1522
Puzur-Ashur III1521-1498
Enlil-naṣir I
Control by Mitanni
Ashur-rābi I
Ashur-nadin-ahhē I
Enlil-naṣir II
Ashur-Nirāri II
Ashur-nadin-ahhē II
Independent of Mitanni, c.1400;
Middle Assyrian Empire
Eriba-Adad I1392-1336
Ashur-uballiṭ I1365-1330
overthrow of Mitanni, c.1330;
conquest of
upper Mesopotamia, c.1300
Adad-nirāri I1307-1275
Salmanasar I1274-1245
Tukulti-Ninurta I1244-1208
holds Babylon 1220-1213
Ashur-nirāri III
Ashur-dān I1179-1134
Ashur-rēsh-ishi I1133-1116
Tiglathpileser I1115-1077
Aramaeans appear, c.1080
Shamshi-Adad IV1057-1050
Ashur-naṣir-pal I1050-1032
Shalmaneser II1031-1020
Ashur-nirāri IV1020-1016
Ashur-rābi II1016-973
Ashur-rēsh-ishi II973-967
Tiglathpileser II967-935
Ashur-dān II934-912
If the numbers were written in a grid, that would take care of it; but I see no references that this was ever done. The alternative symbols and writings we have seen could compensate, if for instance we write 3637 as , with no gap necessary; but this mars the elegance of the system and may be less convenient for practical purposes, especially with ambiguities created by the use of decimal devices in the numbers cited above.

Where Georges Roux tells us nothing about the "zero" introduced in the Seleucid period, Robin Wilson does better again [op. cit., p.29]. The "zero," , is not treated as a number but only functions, as we might expect, as the needed place holder, instead of the ambiguous "gap." Thus, 3637 can be written as , with no ambiguity. Wilson says this began to be used "around 600 BC." This is a lot earlier, almost 300 years, than the "Seleucid Period," and would have been during the Neo-Babylonian period, in fact at the time of Nebuchadnezzar (605-562) himself. This is all, to be sure, still rather late in Mesopotamian history; but, like the calendar, which was perfected during the Persian era, it is testimony to the continuing creativity of the civilization. It is a shame that such heritage was lost, as Trajan found the site of Babylon abandoned and in ruins.

The Babylonian Calendar

Babylonian Kings Continued

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Kings of Assyria

The list and dates here are from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin, 1966, 1992, pp.507-510], with some details added from the Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000-500 BC, by John Haywood [Barnes & Noble, 1998, 2000]. The chronology for the period before the Canon of Kings, 1400 down to 700, is secured by the "Assyrian Kinglist" and a reported eclipse of the sun that can be dated to 15 June 763 BC.

This period begins with the domination of the Hurrians, already or soon to be led by a nobility of Indo-European horsemen, the Mitanni. Assyria was at first kept in check and then in vassalage to this power, one of the more obscure but more important of the Second Millennium BC.

Mitanni, however, set back by Egypt, weakened after 1400 and was soon crushed between the resurgent Hittites to the west and the Assyrians to the east. The plains east of the Euphrates occuied by the Hurrians, the Naharim (or Nahrain, , "Two Rivers") or Jazirah (, "Island"), then come under the control of the Assyrians, as they had briefly in the Old Assyrian Period. The Middle Empire reaches its height under Tukulti-Ninurta I, from 1243-1207, who holds Babylon 1220-1213 (or 1235-1227) and is the first King to use the title "King of Kings," which becomes familiar in subsequent states, down to the Persians. This time, migrations again reduce the state.

The Aramaeans are the ones who this time overwhelm the Jazirah and reduce Assyria to its heartland along and east of the Tigris. This is particularly fateful, since the language of the Aramaeans will eventually replace that of the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and the other Semitic speakers in the Levant and Mesopotamia. The Amorites had been absorbed without a trace by the older civilizations, but the Aramaeans would leave the mark of their language and alphabet on the region until the Arab conquest.

Kings of Assyria continued

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Kings of the Hittites

Old Kingdom
Labarna(s) I?1680-1650c.1680-1650?
Labarna(s) II?/
Hattusilis I
Mursili(s) I1620-15901620-1590
Sack of Babylon, c.1595
Hantili(s) I1590-15601590-1560
Zidanta(s) I1560-15501560-1550
Huzziya(s) I1530-15251530-1525
Hantili(s) II1490-1480
Zidanta(s) II1480-1470
Huzziya(s) II1470-1460
Hittite is the oldest attested
Indo-European language. It is so early that it apparenty left the language community before the full classic system of Indo-European grammar had developed. It also preserved some archaic features that were lost in other Indo-European languages, most significantly the laryngeals whose existed was predicted by Ferdinand de Saussure.

It once seemed likely that Hittite sits in the actual homeland of Indo-European languages, but now that homeland looks more like Eastern Europe or the Ukraine. Indeed, there was someone in Anatolia before the Hittites. There was an older language there, Hattic, which, like many other languages in the ancient Middle East, and the modern languages of the Caucasus, was unrelated to other modern languages of the Middle East, such as Semitic (Arabic, Hebrew), Indo-European (Armenian, Persian, Kurdish), or Turkic (Turkish, Azeri).

The first column of dates at left is from O.R. Gurney, The Hittites [Penguin Books, 1952, 1962, p.216]. The second column of dates is from Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin Books, 1964, 1992, pp.507-9] and/or Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC [Routledge, 1995, 2000, p.230]. In the table for the "Empire" period below, Gurney, Roux, and Kuhrt have been separated into three columns, with Kuhrt's column giving alternative dates in itself. The uncertainties of Hittite dating are still so great that Kuhrt also gives the Kings in a different sequence, as can be seen from the dates.

In the earlier chronologies, there is the inconvenience that the events of the reign of Ramesses II do not match up with the corresponding Hittite dates for these events. Thus, Roux gives 1300 as the date for the battle of Qadesh, while none of the Egyptian references has Ramesses coming to the throne before 1290. Kuhrt's latest dates allow a match for the Battle of Qadesh given with Egyptian chronology, 1275.

The earlier histories usually give the names of the Hittite Kings with a final "s." Kuhrt drops this, without discussion. Presumably the "s" is not actually in the texts. I would imagine that when it was discovered that Hittite was an Indo-European language, it may have become customary to assume the same nominative ending that is found from Latin to Greek to Sanskrit, i.e. "s." Apparently, the custom has lapsed.

Tudhaliya(s) I1460-14401450-14201430/1420-
Arnuwanda(s) I1440-14201420-14001390/1370-
Tudhaliya(s) II1400/1390-
Hattusili(s) II1420-14001410/1400-
Tudhaliya(s) III1400-13801395-13801380/1355-
Suppiluliuma(s) I1380-1340c.1380-13361370/1344-
Defeat of Mitanni, c.1370; reduction of Syria, supplication from widowed Egyptian Queen to marry a Hittite Prince, c.1340
Mattiwaza ?
Arnuwanda(s) II1340-13391330/1322-
Mursili(s) II1339-13061335-13101330/1321-
Battle of Qadesh, 1300 or 1286/1275
Mursilis III
Hattusili(s) III1275-12501286-12651275/1264-
Egyptian-Hittite Treaty, 1286 or 1269/1258
Tudhaliya(s) IV1250-12201265-12351245/1239-
Arnuwanda(s) III1220-11901235-12151215/1209-
Suppiluliuma(s) II1190-?1215-?1210/1205-?
Phrygians & Gasgas destroy Hittites, c.1200
Although the Kingdom of the Hittites in central Anatolia was wiped out by the obscure migrations of the 12th century, small Hittite (or "Neo-Hittite") states continued in Northern Syria, to which references to the Hittites in the Bible refer. These small states are still commemorated in the name "Hatay" given to the province of Turkey containing Antioch. Although any Hittites are long gone, the Turkish name is a political claim to tie the province to Anatolia, while the population was actually overwhelmingly Arab when France ceded the area from Syria to Turkey in 1939 -- a perhaps a vindictive act to punish the Syrians for not appreciating French rule.

The discovery of the Hittite Kingdom and its language was an archaeological sensation at a time when the only Hittites anyone was aware of were those of the small states in the Bible. The decipherment of the Hittite language created another sensation, when it turned out to be an Indo-European language. Even better, it was an evidently archaic dialect which contained sounds in positions that comparative theory had predicted should have been "pharyngeal" sounds (perhaps like Arabic ʿayn) in Proto-Indo-European, but which had not hitherto been found in attested languages.

Ironically, it was the Hittites who then brought to an end the Kingdom of the Mitanni, which may have been ruled by a noble elite with Indo-Aryan affinities, speaking or influenced by another Indo-European language from the same family as Persian and Sanskrit, and who worshiped gods obviously identical to those of the Vedas. The Indo-Aryan influence on Mitanni had clearly come in across Iran, but where the Hittites originally came from, if not autochthonous, is as mysterious as ever.

The pseudo-history that often complicates pubic awareness of ancient history has a moment of extreme unkindness to the Hittites. Immanuel Velikovsky (1895–1979), who for his own reasons wanted to eliminate 500 years of ancient chronology, denied that the Hittite Empire had ever existed. He also denied that gravity existed, despite, oddly enough, being an old personal friend of Albert Einstein.

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Kings of Mitanni

Parattarna (I)c.1530/1480?
Shuttarna Ic.1560?
Control over Assyria;
Egyptians in Syria, c.1478
Parrattarna II?
Artatama Ic.1430
Shuttarna IIc.1400
marries daughter to Amenhotep III;
Defeat by Hittites, 1370
Artatama IIrival
Shuttarna III,
Shattuara I,
Shattuara II
Hittites reduce Syria, c.1340;
Assyrians overthrow Mitanni, c.1330
This is one of the more obscure, intriguing, and important kingdoms of the 2nd millennium BC. One of the ancient non-Semitic and non-Indo-European peoples of the Middle East, like the Sumerians, Elamites, Kassites, and Urartuans, the Hurrians briefly come into their own. Just where they came from is obscure. It was previously thought that some time after 2000 they moved out of the mountains and occupied the great bend of the Euphrates River (now the , Jazīra, the "island," or the , Nahrain, the "two rivers," this in Arabic for a name that we already see in Egyptian, ) and the upper Tigris Valley. Now (cf. Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC, Routledge, 1995, 2000, volume I, pp.284-289), it appears possible that they occupied these areas originally, all the way down to the environs of Nineveh.

Previously, it was thought that, around 1600, an Iranian people, the Mitanni, had established themselves among the Hurrians as a warrior aristocracy, founding the Kingdom known by that name. The evidence for this was Indo-Aryan names of the Kings and the invocation of Vedic gods:  A treaty preserved by the Hittites with the Mitanni King Shattiwaza has them listing gods named "Mitrasil," "Arunasil," and "Indar," which are clearly the Vedic gods Mitra, Varuna, and Indra, the first two simply with "-il," a Semitic element for "god," added. This would have been the farthest west that an Indo-Ayran people penetrated.

Now, however, this evidence apparently seems more ambiguous than previously thought (cf. Kuhrt, pp.296-297). Hurrian names, or Hurrianized names, and Hurrian gods (e.g. the storm god Teshub and Shaushga, the Hurrian equivalent of the Assyro-Babylonian Ishtar) actually dominate the record that we have. If there had been a foreign warrior aristocracy, it looks like it was assimilated rapidly and left few traces by the time of Shattiwaza. This does not require a very radical rethinking of the situation, however. The Indo-Aryan influence is unmistakeable. The proximity of durable Indo-Aryan speakers in Iran is obvious. The only question is the extent of the influence, or of the physical presence of Iranians among the Hurrians. Such questions are probably now unanswerable. But perhaps we should also worry that modern scholars think that if they talk about "Aryans" among the Hurrians, they are going to sound like Nazis. Hence the shift in opinion.

A clue about this issue, however, may come from something noted in Hittite records. The Mitanni were responsible for a handbook on horse training that ended up in the hands of others, like the Hittites. Now, horses were unknown in the Middle East back in the 3rd millennium. They arrive with the Iranians. To the Sumerians, the horse was the , anshe-kur-ra, the "ass of [foreign] countries." Horses are not exclusive to Iranians, since it looks like horses were traded somehwat ahead of their actual arrival. Thus, while the Hyksos were responsible for the introduction of the horse into Egypt, I don't think there have been any serious suggestions that they were an Iranian people. Nevertheless, what we might expect is that Iranians would know horses better than others. The Hyksos did not, as far as we know, produce a manual on horse training. Since the Mitanni did, this may be an indication that there is an Iranian warrior aristocracy involved. Again, of course, there is no reason not to expect rapid assimilation and integration with the Hurrians. The sad thing is that such a unique and tantalizing nation is so ephemeral and so poorly known.

Characteristic of the obscurity of the history of the Mitanni kingdom, the capital, Washukkanni, has never been positively located (now thought to be Tell al-Fakhariyeh in Syria), leaving us without direct documentary evidence of Mitannian history from archives or inscriptions -- so we don't even know what language (Hurrian, Indo-Aryan, or, perhaps, Akkadian) the Court was using. The dating is thus, even for the period, especially problematic. And, as the Hurrians themselves were subsequently assimilated into later linguistic communities, ultimately that of Aramaic speakers, any evidence of Iranians who might be been assimilated among them is lost even more absolutely.

The short history of the kingdom was an important period in the history of the Middle East. The first kings had to contend with Egypt at the height of its military power in the XVIII Dynasty. Both Thutmose I and Thutmose III reached the Euphrates; but the Mitanni eventually fought the Egyptians to at least a draw, and cordial relations ensued, including marriages between the courts. About a century as a Great Power follows. The Hittites, emerging from a period of confusion, then upset the status quo with a devastating defeat of Tushratta, setting off a precipitous decline in the kingdom. Rival claimants for the throne soon enabled Assyria, a Mitanni vassal for more than a century, to regain her independence, the Hittites returned to reduce a rump Mitanni state to Hittite vassalage, and finally the Assyrians swept the kingdom into history, soon with nothing whatever left to mark the existence of either the Mitanni or the Hurrians. The Hittites subsequently fought to their own draw with the Egyptians, and another modus vivendi (now with the XIX Dynasty), until being swept away themselves, leaving the field to, of course, the Assyrians.

The list of Kings is gleaned from Amélie Kuhrt [op.cit., p.290], Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq [Penguin Books, 1964, 1992], and the Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East, by Michael Roaf [Facts on File, 1966, 2000, p.133]. The Penguin Atlas of Ancient History, by Colon McEvedy [Penguin Books, 1967], skips from 1600 to 1300, missing the entire history of Mitanni as a Great Power, but then shows a small Mitanni Kingdom in 1300, 1200, and 1000, when we can say with some certainty that it had already been erased by the Assyrians.

The New Penguin Atlas of Ancient History [2002], using the dates 1575 and 1275, still skips the period of the height of Mitanni power, but then it does correct the misrepresentation of the later surival of the Kingdom. The result, unfortunately, is that now no map shows the existence of the Mitanni Kingdom at all. Such a hiatus in history should not have been allowed. As it happens, this also means that the Penguin Atlas also skips having a page that shows the XVIII Dynasty in Egypt, something that should strike anyone as an even more grave oversight from the larger historical perspective.

Mitanni lost down a memory hole is something I've also seen on The History Channel, where a recent series, "Battles BC," featured an episode on the Battle of Kadesh (in the XIX Dynasty). The show positively asserted that the Egyptians had been fighting the Hittites "for centures," and completely ignores the history of the Mitanni, except to mention that the Hittites had ended up with a Mitanni manual on horse training. It's nice the Mitanni get mentioned, but it is quite false that the Egyptians had been fighting the Hittites "for centuries." This ignores the period in the XVIII Dynasty when Mitanni was the principal enemy of Egypt. And previous to that, there does not seem to have been any contact between Egypt and the Hittites (of the Hittite Old Kingdom) at all.

The main map here is based on the Cultural Atlas and the Historical Atlas of the Ancient World, 4,000,000-500 BC, by John Haywood [Barnes & Noble, 1998, 2000, §1.12].

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Kings of Urarṭu

Sarduri Ic.840-c.825
Argishti Ic.785-c.763
Sarduri IIc.763-c.734
Rusa Ic.734-c.714
Argishti IIc.714-c.685
Rusa IIc.685-c.645
Sarduri IIIc.645-c.635
Sarduri IVc.629-c.590/585
The very existence of Urarṭu was hardly even suspected until so much about it was found in the
Assyrian annals. Even the name Urarṭu is Assyrian. In Urartuan it was Biainili. This a good clue that Urartuan was an unrelated language. It was. The language was one of the non-Semitic and non-Indo-European languages of the ancient Middle East, like Sumerian, Elamite, Hurrian, and Kassite, and like three separate groups of surviving languages in the Caucasus (Georgian, Circassian, etc.). The language is known from Urartuan inscriptions; but there are no other texts or literature surviving in the language, so our knowledge of Urartuan history is relatively impoverished. When the Assyrian records cease to be informative, and Urartuan inscriptions thin out, events disappear from history.

Urarṭu was regarded by the Assyrians as a major enemy. They were ultimately able to defeat and roll back the Urartuans, but never overrun or conquer them. More damaging for the survival of the Kingdom were nomadic inroads by the Scythians and Cimmerians. After Rusa II things get very obscure, and the only certain thing (more or less) is that the Medes end up in possession of the area, variously stated as by 590 or 585 -- part of the campaign that led to Lydia and the Battle of the Eclipse.

What is curious is what emerges next:  the Armenians. The Urartuan language disappears, like the closely related Hurrian. The classic Kingdom was already a mixture of various groups, as can easily happen in a mountainous region with isolated valleys, including speakers of an Indo-European language, Armenian, apparently closely related to Phrygian and Cappadocian further west. The Urartuan speakers ended up linguistically and/or demographically overwhelmed. Urarṭu thus tends to be regarded as the institutional predecessor of the later Armenian kingdoms. How this happened, however, like how the Picts disappeared among the Scots, is something for which we have no clue. There is no evidence of conflict, much less genocide or "ethnic cleansing," any more than in Scotland, where three lines of kings (Picts, Scots, and Britons) simply begin to intertwine.

The word "Urarṭu" itself is evidently preserved in the name of Mt. Ararat, Արարատ (16,940 ft.), an active volcano now just within Turkey. This is said to have been , Ağir Dağ, in Ottoman Turkish, and Ağrı Dağı now (with the higher peak called Büyük Ağrı). But traditionally the mountain is symbolic of the Armenian heartland, and it is visible across the valley of the Aras river from the capital of the modern Republic of Armenia, Yerevan. It has gained the reputation of being the site of the resting place of Noah's Ark.

Although clearly derived from "Urarṭu," Ararat has many other names, and it is not clear how the original name made its way to the mountain in the Middle Ages, when it is first clearly attested. This is just one of the mysteries association with the area, not the least of which is the fate of the Urarṭuans themselves.

The whole Caucasus region, the Culmen Europae, with its several languages families, leaves us with many questions. Not only Noah's Ark has settled there. Some argue that, from the description of the four rivers in Genesis 2:11-14 -- the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates -- Eden itself would be in the valley of the city of Tabrīz. Since the identification of two of the rivers is certain, we definitely are put in the area.

The list of Kings is from Amélie Kuhrt, The Ancient Near East, c.3000-330 BC [Routledge, 1995, 2000, Volume II, p.552] and A.E. Redgate, The Armenians [Basil Blackwell, 1998, 2000, pp.29-30].

A noteworthy detail in Redgate is that a title of the Urartuan King was "Kings of Kings" [p.43]. This is familiar from the Assyrians, Medes, and Persians, but Redgate says that before Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208) used it, it was previously just used for gods (apart from the name of the Sargonid Shar-kalli-sharri, "King of all Kings"). Redgate thinks this implies a claim to divine kingship, passed on to the Persians, not so much from Assyria as from Urarṭu.

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Kings of Israel and Judah

In a period of small states, before empires became the norm, Israel might have been of small account but for its revolution in religion. The jealous God of this small country ended up effecting the overthrow of every traditional deity in the Mediterranean world, Europe, and large parts of Africa and Asia (not to mention the New World), if often by means of the daughter religions of Christianity and Islām. One might say it was all the heritage of Moses. The only prior religion west of India and north of the Sahara to survive was Zoroastrianism, which could contend on something like equal ground as an equivalent monotheism.

Why this happened as it did is still an excellent question. One can, of course, accept an explanation of true divine revelation and intervention. Naturalistic explanations must focus on what must have happened to the Israelites, the outlines of whose sojourn in Egypt are credible enough. On the other hand, the archaeology of Palestine does not seem to show an external invasion such as Genesis describes [note].

Some sites, like Jericho, show destruction that originally was thought to have been the result of Israelite conquest; but it turned out these events occurred much earlier than the period thought to be that of the Exodus. When later Israelite sites are identified with some confidence, their material culture does not look any different from the antecedent Canaanites of the area. Consequently, some historians feel justified in denying that there was ever a Israelite sojourn in Egypt or any kind of invasion of the area.

In the same way, in Egyptian references to people called ꜥApiru, , or (Akkadian) Khāpiru, , which looks like "Hebrew," , the terms seem rather to mean "bandits" or "vagrants" than an ethnic group [note].

On the other hand, even in the Bible story, we gather that Joseph and his family were already in the Canaan land, whence the whole people eventually made its way to Egypt. Since we know that the Delta, especially in the East, filled up with settlers from Canaan or nearby, as early as the XII Dynasty (with images of "Asiatics" who appear to be wearing distinctive "coats of many colors," such as the Bible attributes to Joseph, as at left), the very thesis that Israelites were Canaanites themselves is actually supported by the undoubted migration of Semitic peoples into Egypt.

At the same time, the material culture of the later Israelite settlements is distinctive in that it is consistent with the popular rather than the elite culture of the Canaanites. Now the thesis is catching on that the destruction of the Canaanite cities was a long term social upheaval in which the elite culture decayed and was overthrown. Israelite conquest may actually have been revolution, with the sort of disorders and people that might well have been called "bandits" or even "murderers" by the Egyptian patrons of the Canaanite princes who were being overthrown.

But what about the Exodus? It is hard to imagine how such a story got started and developed. Or perhaps it isn't. In the first place, there is one of strong piece of evidence about the historicity of the Exodus story. The Bible says that the Israelites were forced to make bricks for the building of cities called , Pithom, Coptic Ⲡⲓⲑⲱⲙ, , and , Raꜥamses [Exodus 1:11]. Now, we know that Ramesses II moved the Court to the Delta and built a city called Per- or Pi-Raꜥmesse, . There have been problems identifying this site, and it was at first thought to be identical with the later Tanis. Now a place 30 miles south of Tanis, at the modern Qantir, has been identified as Pi-Raꜥmesse, as discussed here under the XXI Dynasty.

The name of Pi-Raꜥmesse was evidently preserved in some records as late as the XXII Dynasty, but we must ask what literate person had access to such records. And, of course, there were no publicly circulating history books about the period (until Manetho) to look up details like this. Thus, if elements of the name from the XIX Dynasty were preserved in the Exodus story, in a foreign venue, outside Egypt, it looks most likely to have been preserved from the time and the event -- it really cannot have come from anywhere else. There is also the question of when the Bible was written. After the time of the XXII Dynasty, no one would ever hear of Pi-Raꜥmesse again. It would vanish from history, and with it the ability of later writers to imagine anything about it.

Also, the "slavery" of the Israelites appears in a certain light in terms of Egyptian history. Egyptian Kings always drafted local labor for their building projects. This was what we call the corvée and, while it would be no surprise to the Egyptians, it would be as unpleasant as any draft of forced labor to people who previously had never encountered it. And they had not, because of the neglect of the Kings for the area. The XIX Dynasty, however, was of local origin; and Ramesses II was simply paying some attention to his family's old neighborhood. The Ramessids were traditionally worshipers of the god Seth -- as we see in the dynastic name "Seti" -- but their version of Seth, as , was not quite the old Egyptian deity, but a Semiticized god, Sutekh. So Ramesses was really returning to the old hood. He had connections to the religion, if not the ancestors, of the locals.

But the people in the hood obviously were not going to like this attention, or this work, very much. It is not surprising that a bunch of them would decide to leave. They had not forgotten they weren't from there in the first place. So, easy come, easy go. Thus, scholarship now is perhaps more willing to imagine that some Israelites were people who had left Egypt. However, since there is no evidence of an invasion of Canaan, and no indication from the Egyptians that anything out of the ordinary had happened, it is hard not to conclude that, however many draftees left Egypt, it wasn't enough to disrupt any Egyptian projects and did not involve anything like the pyrotechnics related in Exodus. In memory, however, something unusual had happened.

The enduring provocative thesis in this regard is Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, revisited in Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism, by Jan Assman [Harvard University Press, 1998]. To Freud, the Jewish sense of being "chosen" is the result of having literally been chosen, by an Egyptian prince, Moses (which would be Mōse, "born," in Coptic, a common element in Egyptian names, , as with the Thutmosids of the XVIII Dynasty), as the vehicle of preserving the persecuted monotheism of the heretic Egyptian king Akhenaton. This theory is sometimes said to be anti-Semitic, despite Freud's own identity, perhaps just because Moses is made an Egyptian.

The story of Moses, however, contains a most intriguing element. Cast on the river, found, and adopted by an Egyptian princess, Moses's identity as a Hebrew is only later revealed. Nearly identical stories, strikingly, are also given about Sargon of Akkad and about the tragic hero Karna in the Mahābhārata. In those cases, on the other hand, someone who is apparently of obscure and common origin is revealed to actually be of royal descent. Sargon was the son of a "drawer of water," while Karna was raised by a chariot driver. Sargon's defensiveness about his origin is revealed in his name, Sharru-kīn, "the king is legitimate." Clearly, political upstarts like the idea of being "revealed" as more than they seem. Curiously, the effect of the Moses story is precisely the opposite. Someone who is apparently of noble or royal blood turns out to be, not just a commoner, but a foreigner, someone the Egyptians would have called a "miserable Asiatic." If we are to suspect that Sargon really was of humble origin, then the suspicion is just as reasonable that Moses really was the son of that princess. And when we see that his brother Aaron must speak for him, because he is "slow of speech [] and slow of tongue []" [Exodus 4:10], it does sound like his Hebrew just isn't very good. This verse leads others to speculate that Moses had a stutter or other speech impediment, but Freud's explanation is just as simple.

Be that as it may, the other part of the thesis may be more of a problem, that Moses was a believer in the persecuted and dying Amarnan religion. There isn't a shred of Egyptian evidence about this, but then there is plenty of evidence of the vigor with which Haremhab sought to erase all memory of Akhenaton and anyone else associated with his cult. The real barrier here may be that it is going to be hard for modern thinkers to consider that people may really have believed that stuff. Modern explanations for the phenomenon of Akhenaton may even gravitate to the idea that even he didn't believe any of it; but the whole cult was just a cynical way of breaking the power of the priesthood of Amon, and of all the other gods. This view often overtly bears the stigmata of no more than Protestant anti-clericalism. But if Akhenaton and his followers did believe in it all, it is not much of a stretch to credit the possibility that some True Believers survived for several decades through the reigns of Haremhab, Aye, Ramesses I, and Seti I (between 30 to 50 years -- with the uncertainties of the period), especially in obscure parts of the country like, I don't know, the Eastern Delta.
Kings of Israel
Kings of JudahKings of Israel
Rehoboham931-913Jeroboam I931-910
Azariah781-740Jeroboam II783-743
Samaria falls to Assyrians, deportation of the Ten Tribes, 722
Kings of Judah
Ezechiah, Hezeqiah716-687
Episode of the "splintered" or "crushed reed"; Assyrian Army taunts the King that the Egyptians cannot protect him, but the Army then suffers plague deaths, apparently at Pelusium, and retreats; this passage is cited here and discussed in a footnote, 701; Hezeqiah's Tunnel
last reference to the Ark of the Covenant
in a historical Book of the Bible,
2 Chronicles 35:3, 621 BC
Jerusalem falls to Babylonians, 587

A hotly disputed bit of evidence for the survival of the cult concerns the name of Akhenaton's god, the Aton (Ytn). To Freud and others, this looks like the Hebrew word for "Lord," , adōn, which traditionally is read, as , adōnāi, in place of the sacred Name of God (, the Tetragrammaton) in the Bible. Since the n seems to have been lost in the pronunciation found in the Amarna diplomatic archive, it is now commonly thought that the Hebrew word could not have been derived from the Egyptian. This is to suppose, however, that the Hebrew word need be derived from the Egyptian for the thesis to work. The origin of the Egyptian word itself is a good question. The Aton "Sun Disk" was not prior to this period the name of an Egyptian god. On the other hand, "Adon" was a divine name all over the Levant, and was imported from there into Greek mythology, as Adonis (with essentially the same story as that of Dumuzi/Tammuz in Sumerian/Babylonian mythology). If the name of the god was imported at an earlier period into Egyptian, then the Hebrew equivalent could still be recognized as the same name, even if the pronunciation had diverged. And "Aton" was still written with an "n."

Even "adon," of course, is not really a name of God in Hebrew. A Freudian thesis about Moses must account for the origin of the Tetragrammaton, which is innocent of any Egyptian parallels. This, however, seems to be provided for by Moses' sojourn in the Sinai, marrying a daughter of no less than a "priest of Midian" [Exodus 2:16], Jethro. It now appears that the Egyptians themselves called the area of Midian YHW, "Yahu," which already has suspicious elements of . This name is something that otherwise cannot be accounted for with material either from Egypt or Canaan, where no such name or any of its elements occurs. It seems to come out the Blue. The fiery Midian God of the Mountain, mixed with the God of Akhenaton, would get us a suitable combination, though the element of speculation in this theory begins to predominate.

Would the historical Moses have effected the combination of Aton/Adon and YHWH himself, or did the Yahwehistic element come in later and get retroactively attributed to Moses? Or was "Moses" imagined to account for the experience of refugees from Egypt who did happen to tarry in Midian and absorbed its influence? Any of these is possible; but the motif of an Egyptian leaving the country and returning dressed as a foreigner, as Moses is represented as doing, is even something that occurs in Egyptian literature -- e.g. the "Tale of Sinuhe," which was about someone who fled Egypt apparently after witnessing the assassination of Amenemhet I. Homesick and actually above suspicion, Sinuhe was eventually invited and allowed to return home, doubtlessly to cut off that awful Asiatic hair style and take a bath [cf. Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms, University of California Press, 1975, pp. 222-235].

We probably will never know just what happened. But whatever it was, the effects have been formidable. It also makes a damn good story, whether we prefer the straight Biblical version or the Freudian reworking. Indeed, while the historicity of Moses and his doings is open to question, one might begin to think that it seems beyond coincidence that the extraordinary events of the Amarnan revolution, where the evidence is undoubted, should have occurred so near in time and place to the traditional events of the Exodus. In the Egyptian record, Akhenaton's innovations seem to have come to nothing, except a period of recrimination and vengeance. Is this really credible? If Christianity survived, secretly and illegally, in Japan for 300 years, despite the prospect of ferocious persecution and torture, could the followers of the Aton have survived a couple of reigns? It all depends, probably, on our estimation of the appeal of Akhenaton's teaching. It seems to be commonly assumed that it meant nothing to the Egyptians and vanished without regret. But there was, at least, an entire city of Atonites, intimately involved with the cult, to the exclusion of other religion (well, many of the workers kept images of the old gods), and the benevolent rays of the Aton still embrace the king and Ankhesnamon on the gilt throne from Tutankhamon's tomb. All we really need, after all, is just one real Atonite, with his plan to lead the Hebrews.

The first external reference to Israel appears to come on a stele celebrating the victories of Merenptah. The way the word is written may be significant. After a determinative for "foreign," we get further determinatives, not for "land," , such as we see in other place names, but only glyphs for men, women, and plurality. This looks like the designation for a nomadic people, rather than a settled realm. This is consistent with the idea that the Israelites were assembled from disparate elements, including Canaanite rebels and refugees from Egypt (and/or Midian). Such a group as nomads, rebels, or "bandits" would then not be associated with a specific location, consistent with what we can already imagine. As Ibn Khaldūn might well have said, the unity of the People was created by the power of the religion they adopted.

Two suggestive pieces of textual evidence support Freud's thesis. One came with the discovery at Amarna of a lengthy Hymn to the Aton apparently written by Akhenaton himself. In short order, people began to see parallels between this Hymn and the 104th Psalm in the Bible, both in the expressions and in their sequence, despite one being in Egyptian and the other in Hebrew. It could all, of course, be a coincidence. Everyone would need to judge for themselves, having examined both, of the likelihood of that. Since the Hymn was totally forgotten by the Egyptians, and lay buried at Amarna for most of the rest of history, it seems unlikely that it could have worked its way into the Bible unless Moses, or someone, took a copy with them out of Egypt. And could read it. Or would want to.

This question is reinforced by another discovery. In The Wall Street Journal of April 3, 2015, Joshua Berman says:

Some 80 years ago, archaeologists discovered an affinity between the Bible's description of the Tabernacle erected by the Israelites in the desert and the bas-reliefs of Ramesses' military camp at Kadesh. Even the layout and proportions of God's inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, match the pharaoh's inviolable throne tent exactly. ["Searching for the Historical Exodus," A9]

Similarly, the narrative of the Battle of Qadesh and the actions of Ramesses II, placed by him on many temples in Egypt, contains many parallels to the account of the Exodus in the Bible, parallels much like those between the Hymn of Akhenaton and the 104th Psalm.

A curious thing about Berman's article is his failure to mention something rather obvious. For the "Poem" or the "Report" of the battle of Qadesh to have ended up, in some version, in the Bible, not only would someone have needed to be able to read it, but a copy of it, like a copy of the Hymn to the Aton, would have needed to have been taken out of Egypt. Now, universal literacy was not a strong point with Egyptian civilization. Literacy was confined to a scribal class and to an educated elite. Like Moses. Otherwise, a bunch of illiterate Semitic settlers in the Delta, standing in mud and making bricks, could not have known the Battle of Qadesh from the Battle of Verdun. But Moses, as we may imagine him, not only would have read the account of the battle, but he could easily have obtained a fair copy of it on papyrus. And taken it with him.

Thus, while Berman presents this evidence as supporting the historicity of the Exodus, in the very reign of Ramesses II, it equally supports the thesis that Moses was a Prince of Egypt -- or, certainly, that some literate Egyptian was involved in the Exodus. This also tends to reinforce our impression about the Hymn of Akhenaton. If someone is carrying one text out of Egypt, why not another? And if the Tabernacle of God takes the form of the tent of the King of Egypt, how little is that going to owe to the religion either of Canaan or of Midian? Not much. It is going to be the work of an Egyptian.

The story of Israel and Judah, of course, was then only beginning. The Judges and Prophets, David and Solomon, the Lost Tribes, and finally the Babylonian Captivity all added to the conceptual and historical complexity and drama that soon marked the Jewish nation as one of the most distinctive and original influences in the Middle East. When Judaea reemerged from the shadow of empires, it was as a venue of further religious conflict, innovation, and influence.

The deportation of the Ten Tribes

Judaea of the Maccabees and Herodians

The word "Allāh" in Arabic, with Cognates in Hebrew & Babylonian

The State of Israel

Mesopotamian Index

Philosophy of History

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2006, 2011, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021, 2023 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings of Israel and Judah, Note 1

Previously, the lands on the Eastern litoral of the Mediterranean, and inland to the desert, were collectively called the "Levant," "Syria and Palestine," or often just "Syria." Entering the territory of what is now Jordan from the South, T.E. Lawrence commented that he had at last come to Syria. The land that the Israelites were supposed to have invaded and conquered was, of course, the "Canaan Land." "Palestine" was the designation of the Roman province, with the name deriving from the Philistines. Its use continued into the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948). Political considerations now have entered into the naming.

My understanding is that the name Israel, , was originally the name of the Patriarch Jacob, then the name of the People descended from him, the Israelites, and then the name of the Kingdom that was subsequently founded in the Canaan Land, which divided at the death of Solomon into Israel and Judah, and whose northern part, Israel proper, was destroyed by the Assyrians. The southern part survived, and eventually its name, Judaea, became attached to the country around and East of Jerusalem. The northern area, around the old capital at Samaria, was resettled by the Assyrians with some of the exiles of Israel, but these people were never accepted as kin or co-religionists by Judaea. They survive until today as the Samaritans, and the area of the former post-Solomonic Kingdom of Israel, became known as Samaria.

Now, since 1948, there is the State of Israel, and it is the practice of Isaelis and Jews everywhere, in effect all Zionists, to regard the whole of the former Mandate of Palestine as Eretz Yisrāʾel, , the "Land of Israel." Palestinians continue using the old name. The Zionist argument is that the land is properly the "Land of Israel," and that the Romans artificially renamed it "Palestine" in an attempt to wipe out its Jewish identity. I am not aware of any documentary basis for this assertion among Roman historians, and I am also not aware of the Bible ever calling the country the "Land of Israel." I stand ready to be corrected, but my practice in geographical terms, will reflect the traditional usage. The "Land of Israel" may simply mean the land possessed by the People, the Kingdom, or the State, but I do not see that this should alter the long established geographical meaning of "Palestine."

This also ends up involving quibbles about boundaries. To many, Eretz Yisrāʾel, or what the British called "Palestine," extended East over the Jordan River into all the land that subsequently became the Kingdom of Jordan. At the same time, the rump of British Palestine that had been annexed by Jordan, that was occupied by Israel in 1967, and that generally is called the "West Bank," is often in Israeli usage called "Judaea and Samaria." Usually, geographical Palestine has been regarded as ending at the Jordan, with the Eastern areas a Southern extension of Syria -- as in the usage of Lawrence. But to Menachem Begin, "Palestine" had already been Partitioned, in 1921, and any Arabs living in Jordan were thus already "Palestinians," occupying their own part of Palestine. Nothing West of the Jordan River should be called "Palestine."

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Kings of Israel and Judah, Note 2

The story of the term ḫāpiru in Akkadian is complicated and intriguing. The word, which we see in an older writing as , meaning "vagrant" [cf. A Concise Dictionary of Akkadian, edited by Black, George, & Postgate, Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden, 2000, p.106 -- the dictionary, however, to my astonishment, does not actually give cuneiform writings, which must be snatched off the Web], seems to have become ḫābiru in Babylonian. In the conventional Neo-Assyrian script, ḫāpiru can be written as , and ḫābiru as , with the nice touch that the middle sign can be bi or pi.

Akkadian ḫāpiru can be matched up with the elaborate and archaic Sumerian (literally "head-smash"), which meant "highway robber, murderer, criminal" [Sumerian Lexicon, by John Alan Halloran, Logogram Publishing, Los Angeles, 2006, p.220 -- also innocent of cuneiform]. Sa-gaz, in turn, can go directly into Akkadian as šaggāšu, "murderer" [Akkadian, p.346]. This can then be associated with ḫābilu, which meant "criminal, wrongdoer" [p.99], and looks enough like ḫābiru that it could be confused with it.

With all these variations, the most intriguing thing may be that it is the Egyptian that begins with the same sound as Hebrew , i.e. what is still preserved today as the gutteral of Arabic. If the other "vagrant" or "bandit" words and "Hebrew" have anything to do with each other, one might expect the Egyptian to show great affinities.

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The Third Intermediate Period
of Egypt

The list and dates here are mainly from Peter A. Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs [Thames & Hudson, 1994], with some extra information from Sir Alan Gardiner, Egypt of the Pharaohs [Oxford, 1966], Mark Lehner, The Complete Pyramids [Thames & Hudson, 1997], William J. Murnane, The Penguin Guide to Ancient Egypt [Penguin, 1983], and Kevin L. Johnson & Bill Petty, The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Carthouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, with Selected Queens [Museum Tours Press, Littleton, Colorado, 2011, 2012].

Very often historians include in the "Late Period" everything in Egyptian history from the XXI Dynasty to the Roman conquest. The use of the term "Third Intermediate Period" implies that the "Late Period" starts a little later.
The Third
Intermediate Period
XXI Dynasty,
Kings at Tanis,

High Priests at Thebes
Smendes I
Pinedjem I
Psusennes I
Smendes II
the Elder
Pinedjem II990-969
Psusennes III969-945
Psusennes II967-944,
Clayton has the Late Period beginning with the
Persian Conquest, which is not really fair to the XXVI Dynasty, which should not be considered part of an "Intermediate" period.

It is not unreasonable to see Egyptian history as actually ending when the XXVI Dynasty falls in 525, since the country is subsequently dominated by Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs. But Manethō numbered his dynasties right down to the advent of Alexander the Great and the Ptolemies, who in many ways were still trying to act like Egyptian kings. The thirty dynasties of his system end with the last native Egyptian kings, of the XXX Dynasty. Sometimes the three kings of the subsequent Persian reconquest are called the "XXXI Dynasty" and the Ptolemies the "XXXII Dynasty," but of course the Persians are in the same line as the original Persian XXVII Dynasty, and Manethō himself didn't give the Ptolemaic Dynasty a number, even though he lived under it. These flourishes are not really necessary or helpful. The proposal for the "XXXI Dynasty," however, is an ancient one, handed down by the Christian chronographer Julius Africanus. The approach here is that the "Late Period" will be the XXVI Dynasty down to Cleopatra, which is when most people think that Egyptian history ended anyway -- even if they don't quite know who Cleopatra was.

The XXI Dynasty is a weaker version of the XX Dynasty, whose most conspicuous feature is the virtual independence of the High Priests of Amon at Thebes, a phenomenon that began with Hrihor during the reign of Ramesses XI.

Some intact burials of XXI kings at Tanis have actually been found, though the quality of the work, with a silver coffin of Psuennes I and gold masks of Psuennes and Amenemope, are noticeably inferior to the works in Tutankhamon's tomb. The tomb of Hrihor, which is attested, has not been found, and John Romer guesses that it may be well hidden and intact.

The most durable job done by the priests of Amon in this period was the reburial of almost all the earlier Egyptian Kings of the New Kingdom, whose tombs had already been robbed. We have the mummies of Thutmose III and Ramesses II because of the work of this period, involving two caches, one of which I have already addressed in relation to the tomb of Amenhotep II.

Some people think that this was done (by the thieving priests) to strip any remaining treasures from the kings; but then there cannot have been much left, and if it became known (through what are now called "leaks") that the kings were reburied with gold, then the likelihood would be great that tomb robbers would return. Instead, without treasures, the chances are that the reburials would remain undisturbed, which they did. We cannot neglect the possibility that the accusations against the priests are part of the anti-clerical (Protestant) bias that often turns up in treatments of the Egyptian priesthood, to the point of theories that Akhenaton's entire religious revolution was just to (cynically?) disempower traditional priests.

The other cache of royal mummies was in a shaft tomb near Deir al-Baḥri, and so called "DB320," but now also just "TT320" or "Theban Tomb 320." Where the tomb of Amenhotep II contained nine Kings of the XVIII, XIX, and XX Dynasties, this destination contained eleven Kings, or fourteen if we count the High Priests of Amon, of the XVII through XXI Dynasties. But there are fifty-five bodies in this cache, which includes queens, consorts, princesses, princes, and various other royal and priestly attendants, with some anonymous bodies and named but unidentified ones. Thus, we have only one King of the XVII Dynasty, the horribly wounded Seqenenre Tao II, but the cache contains one prince and no less than six women from the dynasty.

This circumstance refutes a claim now sometimes heard, proximately because of the poor XVIII Dynasty princess left in KV 64, that the XXI priests only reburied kings, and neglected other royals. But, as noted, this was not true; and the princess of KV 64 was probably not reburied because her remains were covered with rubble and unnoticed, even when the tomb, which had laid open, was used for a new burial in the XXII Dynasty.

Since the burials in DB320 include Priests of Amon of the XXI Dynasty themselves, with their families and colleagues, this means that they were burying their own people without treasures, to keep them safe. If the priests had been robbing the dead for their own benefit, it is unlikely they wouldn't have tried to take some of it with them. And if the priests themselves had been the ones originally looting the tombs, as a kind of piggy-bank for their regime, as is sometimes now claimed, they could have buried some treasures with themselves without fear of robbery -- since they presumably wouldn't rob themselves. But they didn't, which means they knew that tomb robbery was, as it would be in later centuries, a local industry. The tomb of BD320 may originally have just been intended for Pinedjem II, who is the latest ruler present.

The tomb of Amenhotep II was found in 1898. The discovery of the Deir al-Baḥri tomb was between 1871 and 1881, a matter obscured by the fact that the discovery was effected by a local family, the ʿAbd ar-Rassuls, who were making a living off tomb robbing. Noticing suspicious items on the market, the Egyptian police used torture to induce confessions from two ʿAbd ar-Rassul brothers and reveal the existence of the tomb. Unfortunately, the Director of Antiquities, Gaston Maspero, was on vacation; and his assistants who hurried to the discovery carelessly emptied the contents of the cache in 48 hours, without recording the position of the coffins and other artifacts, and damaging them in their hurry. This was not, of course, proper archaeological technique, and it has produced some confusions about the materials ever since. However, they may have been motivated by fear that the locals, losing a valuable source of black market income, might attack the archaeological group -- although leaving the tomb open and neglected after 1881 may bespeak continuing carelessness.

The mummies are frequently accompanied by records of their movements, which were not directly from their original tombs to the cache. This gives valuable insight into the whole history of this process. Inspections of the Theban tombs had been ordered by Ramesses IX (whose remains are in DB320), and there seemed to have been little looting yet -- although there had already been one tomb robbery scandal, and trial, involving local officials. Yet looting in earnest soon started. The location of the Royal Court in the distant Delta may have been a factor, but there is also evidence that famine, brigands, and other, poorly identified, troubles may have been occurring at Thebes. Rescuing burials became a project of the entire XXI Dynasty priesthood of Amon.

A mystery about the burials is who is not present. The Ramessid survey of the Theban tombs included notice that the Intefs of the XI Dynasty were undisturbed. But no such tombs have ever been located in modern times. Present in the cache is Ahmose I of the XVIII Dynasty. Where was his tomb? We do not know. And what about his brother, Kamose? He is missing, yet we can imagine that Kamose was buried at least as well as Tao II or Ahmose. Is Kamose still lying in his tomb, overlooked by robbers? In turn, the more immediate mystery is the disposition of the first Priest of Amon to style himself with royal titles, Hrihor, a person of such ambition as unlikely to neglect his own burial. Where is he? We do not know. The cache of DB320 has three Priests of the XXI Dynasty, but none of the others. The temptation is great to imagine that they are out there somewhere, scattered outside the Valley of the Kings, as the location of DB320 already makes evident. But the desert and the cliffs and canyons of Western Thebes are vast. Tombs can lie under any pile of rocks or mound of sand. John Romer has been out there poking around, but not yet with any success.

While the city built by Ramesses II -- Pi or Pir Ramesse, the "House of Ramesses" -- remained the capital for the XIX and XX Dynasty, in the XXI the capital was moved north to Tanis. It was long an issue of which city was which, and the monuments of Ramesses II at Tanis at first made it look to Pierre Montet, the great archaeologist parodied in Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981], like this was Pi-Ramesse. However, there was no other XIX Dynasty archaeology at the site. Now it looks like Pi-Ramesse was 30 miles south of Tanis and that the capital was moved because the Pelusiac Branch of the Nile, or perhaps just the harbor of the city, was silting up, while the Tanitic Branch was still open. The XXI Dynasty Kings had moved the monuments from the one to the other. "Tanis" is the Greek name, Τάνις, while (one writing of) the Egyptian name was , which is clearly the same name. For the association of Sais, Buto, Mendes, and Heliopolis with the four elements, see discussion of Egyptian tombs.

XXII Dynasty,
Libyan of Bubastis,

or Tanis,
Sheshonq I

of Jerusalem, 925
Osorkon I
Sheshonq IIac.890
Sheshonq IIb
Sheshonq IIc
Takelot I
Osorkon II874-850875-835
Takelot II850-825Thebes?
Sheshonq III825-773835-795
Sheshonq IV?795-785
Sheshonq V767-730775-735
XXIII Dynasty
Osorkon IV730-715735-715
Defeated by Piꜥankhi at Hermopolis & submits to him, c. 728; dethroned by Shabaka
Soon the country would be reunited by a dynasty that the Egyptians considered foreigners, ethnic Libyans who had somewhat penetrated the Delta and become Egyptianized. We still use the Egyptian name for Libya, namely , by way of Greek Λιβύη. The Egyptians also called the area , which may reflect their awareness of the existence of different Libyan tribes, for whom they had several names.

The first Libyan king, Sheshonq I, , gives us a moment of overlap with Biblical history, since, as , Shishaq, he beseiges Jerusalem and is bought off with most of the treasures of Solomon's Temple (2 Chronicles 12:2-9).

The more romantic version of this is that Sheshonq actually sacked the city and carried off the Ark of the Covenant, a tale we see in Raiders of the Lost Ark [1981], the first Indiana Jones movie. Other details of the movie also owe more to imagination than to either the Bible or the historical records. There was no "well of souls" at Tanis, and no room would be built with a dome, which the Egyptians never used. The Egyptians built arches, but always only with mudbrick, not with stone. Otherwise, the Egyptians used the strength of stone to make flat spans. The Ark would remain safely in Jerusalem, at least until the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. The last reference to the Ark of the Covenant in a historical Book of the Bible (2 Chronicles 35:3), has King Josiah putting the Ark in Solomon's Temple in 621 BC. It is after Nebuchadnezzar that the fate of the Ark becomes a matter of legend and speculation. The best stories about the Ark concern the Crusading Templars, who quartered on the Temple Mount and deliberately excavated for relics. The Templars were reputed to have found the Ark, but, like many other stories about the Templars, there is no direct evidence for anything of the sort. Lately the claim of the Ethiopians to possess the Ark has received a good deal of attention, perhaps not the least because of remarkable history and monuments of Ethiopian Christianity.

Scholarly opinion now seems to be that the XXII Dynasty was based at Tanis. Most of the XXII Dynasty kings are buried there, adjacent to the XXI Dynasty kings. However, Manethō apparently has no doubt that the dynasty was at Bubastis, and it is hard to imagine how he would have gotten the wrong idea about that. Not all the XXII Dynasty kings are accounted for at Tanis, and the possibility remains that they were buried at Bubastis. Nevertheless, the gate at Karnak that was built by Sheshonq, is still called the "Bubastite Portal."
XXIII Dynasty,
Libyan of Leontopolis,

or Tanis,
Iuput I804-803
Sheshonq IV793-787
Osorkon III787-759
Takelot III764-757
Iuput II
Defeated by Piꜥankhi
at Hermopolis & submits
to him, c. 728
Sheshonq VI720-715
Dethroned by Shabaka

Towards the end of the XXII Dynasty, the country began to break up. The XXIII and XXIV Dynasties, with other rulers of uncounted Dynasties, were rival Libyan lines, in addition to areas controlled by those who the Egyptians called "chieftans of Ma." The XXIV Dynasty at Sais, however, may actually represent the ancestors of the later XXVI Dynasty. Otherwise, we know about independent rulers at Heracleopolis and Hermopolis Magna in Upper Egypt, which apparently were missed by Manetho in his king list. In the end, all the Libyan dynasties combined were defeated by Piꜥankhi of Napata, and his successors, who imposed Kushite rule on Egypt. Piꜥankhi at first accepted the local kings as vassals, but they revolted and were all deposed in 715. A better, larger scale map of the period than the one below can be found in the Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt [Bill Manley, 1996. p.107].

With a lot of cities here that are unfamiliar from earlier Egyptian history, there is the question of their identity in hieroglyphics. Egyptian cities often have multiple names, and multiple ways of writing each of them. Since cities are now most frequently identified by their modern names in Arabic, or Greek names, or speculative vocalizations, tracking down the original name in Egyptian consonants can be a bit of a challenge.


An excellent example is Leontopolis, Λεοντόπολις, the "Lion City," the seat of the XXIII Dynasty, named after a patron lion god, (actually written here with a "panther, leopard" rather than a "lion" glyph). This god is obscure in his own right, and his name cannot be found in Gardiner's Egyptian Grammar or Bill Petty's Egyptian Glyphary [Museum Tours Press, 2012].

In the table of Egyptian cities at Wikipedia, the Egyptian name of Leontopolis is given as "Taremu," without providing any hieroglyphic writing, and the associated gods are said to be "Bast and Sekhmet." Sekhmet, , is perhaps the most important lion goddess of Egypt, and is identified as the mother of Mahes; but her main cult center was Memphis, and it is not clear to what extent she was actually present at Leontopolis. Bast or Bastet, , was a cat goddess, also said to be the mother of Mahes, but her main cult certer was certainly Bubastis, which is named after her and which we see here as the seat of the XXII Dynasty.

The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt [Richard H. Wilkinson, Thames & Hudson, 2003], under its entry for "Mahes," also gives the Egyptian name of Leontopolis as "Taremu," but, again, without a hieroglyphic writing [p.178]. For actual Egyptian writings, we are in the first place thrown back on E.A. Wallis Budge and his gravely dated 1920 An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary [John Murray, London; reissued by Dover Publications, 1978, 2017] -- and now, helpfully, on Bill Petty, English to Middle Egyptian Dictionary [Museum Tours Press, 2016].
XXII Dynasty Kings,
at Thebes, ,
Takeloth II840-820
Pedubast I820-800
Iuput Ic.800
Sheshonk IV/VI800-780
Osorkon III780-760
Takeloth III760-745

Budge has no less the four different versions of the name of Leontopolis. Not a single one of them vocalizes as "Taremu." The closest is the one used above, , which is only lacking the "t" in its transcription. Otherwise, I have no idea where the Wikipedia and Complete Gods and Goddesses reading comes from. The most interesting name Budge gives is , which reads as the "Temple of Mahes." With these names, we have "lion" glyphs as well as, or instead of, the "panther, leopard" glyph seen above for the god Mahes. Meanwhile, Bill Petty gives the sole name of Leontopolis as [op.cit., p.274], which seems to have nothing to do with any of other names. It is, however, one of the alternative names given by Budge.

As I have been discussing the name of Leontopolis, displayed at left has been a list of many of the same kings, marked as offshoots of the XXII Dynasty ruling at Thebes. The list of kings at Leontopolis, with many of the names in hieroglyphics on this page, comes straight out of The Names of the Kings of Egypt, The Serekhs and Cartouches of Egypt's Pharaohs, along with Selected Queens, by Kevin L. Johnson and Bill Petty [Museum Tours Press, Littleton, Colorado, 2012, pp.65-66]. The same list can be found in the previously cited The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt, which also features maps showing the extent of the Leontopolitan realm [pp.106 &107, see below]. However, I now see this revised in Searching for the Lost Tombs of Egypt, by Chris Naunton [Thames & Hudson, 2018, p.259].

Naunton has an altered chronology for the XXII Dynasty, some of which I give in the right hand column of the XXII Dynasty table above, following the first dates, as well as in the table seen at left. Naunton says that at least one of the XXII Dynasty kings, Takelot II, seems to have been ruling at Thebes, following Harsiese, who I have previously listed that way, from other sources. He follows this Takelot (he writes "Takeloth") with the kings I have shown ruling from Leontopolis.
Non-Dynastic Kings,
of Heracleopolis,
Defeated by Piꜥankhi
at Hermopolis &
dethroned, c.728
of Hermopolis Magna,
Defeated by Piꜥankhi
at Hermopolis &
dethroned, c.728
Also, having entirely eliminated a "XXIII Dynasty" of Leontopolis, Naunton assigned the last king of the XXII Dynasty, Osorkon IV, to his own lonely XXIII Dynasty. Manetho does have an Ὀσορχώ, obviously "Osorkon," in his XXIII Dynasty; but this follows a Πετουβάτης, who would seem to be the "Pedibastet" we have of Leontopolis, or the "Pedubast I" Naunton has at Thebes (I don't see a "II" for the name). Naunton ends his Theban list with "Peftjauawybast," who is clearly the "Peftjauabastet" that the Penguin Atlas puts at Heracleopolis -- either way, they had to deal with Piꜥankhi's invasion in 728 BC. But Naunton has him surviving until Shabaka's housecleaning in 715.

Naunton gives an "Input I" for his Theban kings, but no Input II, who otherwise figures in the Leontopolis list. The Penguin Atlas shows "Input II" on its map of the kings who faced the invasion of Piꜥankhi [p.107]. I am, of course, curious how all these changes are motivated. Nauntton cites new archaeological evidence. Manetho assigns the XXIII Dynasty to Tanis, and I seem to have missed just where and how Leontopolis came into it in the first place. Naunton doesn't discuss the issue. Since the chronology of the period is confused and often speculative (I've left out the circa for all of Naunton's dates, and as used in the Penguin Atlas, which may be understood), I retain both versions of the lists.


, the name of Hermopolis Magna used here, is actually given in Alan Gardiner [Oxford, 1927, 1964, p.584], and repeated by Bill Petty [Hieroglyphic Dictionary, 2012, p.116; English to Middle Egyptian Dictionary, p.273], while the one at Wikipedia is abbreviated, as . The town is apparently named after the group of eight gods, the "Ogdoad," Ὀγδοάς (genitive, Ὀγδοάδος), , who are worshipped there.

The city of Hermopolis Magna, "Great" Hermopolis, is in the 15th Nome of Upper Egypt. There is also a Hermopolis in Lower Egypt, Hermopolis Parva, "Small" Hermopolis. However, we find two different cities identified as Hermopolis Parva, one in the 7th Nome and one in the 15th. It is not clear what is going on with this. Bill Petty only gives the 15th Nome Hermopolis Parva, with the name , which is one of the names Budge has for Hermopolis Parva, without otherwise any discussion of a problem of identification.

Budge has a more elaborate entry for the name , which he says is in the 6th Nome of Lower Egypt, not the 7th. Wikipedia has a detailed treatment of this name, which means the "City [] of Horus," with its derivatives in Coptic, Timenhōr, Ϯⲙⲉⲛϩⲱⲣ, and Arabic, Damanhūr, , so that the derivation of the name of the modern city, in the Western Delta (the 7th Nome), is persuasively derived from the Egyptian name. So there is no reason to doubt the identity of Hermopolis Parva (1), although we may then ask for the primary texts that identity this city as Hermopolis. I have not noticed any citations to this effect.

The Complete Cities of Ancient Egypt, by Steven Snape [Thames & Hudson, 2014], uniquely identifies Hermopolis Parva as the city of the 15th Nome, south of Thmuis [p.190].
XXIV Dynasty,
Libyan of Sais,
Unifies Egptians rulers,
defeated by Piꜥankhi
at Hermopolis & submits
to him, c. 728

Captured and burned
alive by Shabaka;
continued as
XXVI Dynasty?
The modern city of Damanhur is mentioned, with a gloss that its ancient name, "Demi-n-Hor," meant "Town of Horus" [p.182]; but it is not shown on the attendant map, and there is no other notice or discussion about its ancient identity.

With Hermopolis Parva (2), we apparently have the testimony of Strabo that it is slightly south of the city of Thmuis. On modern maps, Thmuis is sometimes shown, and it is adjacent to Mendes and near the modern city of El Simbillāwein [cf. Äegypten Autokarte, Kartographie, Druck u. Verlag: Freytag-Berndt u. Artaria, Wien, Austria -- no date]. Wikipedia identifies the site of the city as "Tell al-Naqus," but I do not see this on maps. Tell al-Naqus, however, is said to be near al-Baqliyyah, (El-Baqaleya, El-Baqeleya), which does appear on Google Maps, midway between El Simbillāwein and El Mansūra.

So perhaps there were just two cities called "Hermopolis" in Lower Egypt, but the issue remains murky.

Curiouser and Curiouser, The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt shows two cities of Hermopolis in Lower Egypt, with one of them, our Hermopolis (2) actually identified with the modern city of Ashmunein, between Busiris and Mendes. However, the Äegypten Autokarte shows no such city in the Nile Delta. The city of Al Ashmūnein is in Upper Egypt and is actually adjacent to Hermopolis Magna.

Another curious case comes from the comparison of two maps by the National Geographic Society. The earlier map is the "Nile Valley, Land of the Pharaohs" from May 1965. Here, Hermopolis Parva is identified with Damanhūr, and there is no Hermopolis, or any other ancient city, in the space near Mendes. However, we have a further map, "Egypt's Nile Valley" from January 1995. On that map, Damanhūr has no ancient identification at all, which seems a little odd for a city whose name is attested in both Egyptian and Coptic. On the other hand, the modern El Baqliya, half-way between Mendes and Sebennytos (modern Samannūd), is identified as Hermopolis Parva. Thus, after thirty years, the map makers have actually changed their minds about Hermopolis Parva.

It would be nice to know the reasoning of the cartographers, but the maps contain no footnotes or discussion about ambiguous cases like Hermopolis. The lack of discussion even in atlases of Egypt leaves us with the impression no one quite knows what to do with the multiple examples of "Hermopolis." The identification of Strabo probably motivates the location of Hermopolis Parva in the 15th Nome, but then we might also like to know what the original evidence or reasoning was for putting it in the 7th Nome and identifying it with Damanhūr. Leaving the whole matter off the table will only perpetuate confusion.

The map below left, on the eve of Piꜥankhi's invasion of Egypt, is based on the Penguin Atlas [p.107]. This illustrates the construction featured in the Penguin Atlas that the XXIII Dynasty was based at Leontopolis, which now I have seen questioned, with the kings located at Thebes instead. There is also the difficulty that everyone seems to have a different idea about where all the branches of the Nile were. This Pelusiac Branch of the Nile may have already silted up, at least enough to inhibit navigation. I have already examined some of the problems in that respect, which come up in defining the boundaries of some of the Nomes in Lower Egypt.

The Penguin Atlas says that the area from Letopolis down to Memphis is "disputed"; and the yellow area south of Bubastis is distinguished as "Dynasty 22 princes" rather than, presumably, royal authority. The "Ma" or more fully, "Meshwesh," , is what some of the Libyans of the period were originally called, including those contributing the XXII Dynasty and other Libyan rulers, which means that the "chiefdoms of the Ma" on the map are areas overrun now by tribal anarchy. The Kings who were faced with Piꜥankhi's invasion, led by Tefnakht, are identified with their dynasties.

The architectural remains of this period in Egypt are hard to miss. Sheshonq I may have begun the great First Pylon at Karnak, which is still the biggest of all, even though it was never finished (much of the brick construction ramp is still there). But the Pylon may also have been built by Nectanebos I of the XXX Dynasty, who at least usurped the inscriptions. But Sheshonq's name still survives on the "Bubastite Portal," a side entrance to the first courtyard of the temple, behind the First Pylon. In the middle of the courtyard is what remains of the stately "Kiosk" of Taharqa.

Kushite, Nubian, or Ethiopian
Dynasty of Napata,
& Meroë,
[unknown]890-840el Kurru
[unknown]865-825el Kurru
[unknown]815-795el Kurru
[unknown]795-785el Kurru
Alara795-760el Kurru
Kashta760-747el Kurru
XXV Dynasty
Piꜥankhi, Piye
747-716el Kurru
Defeats Tefnakht and
subjugates Egypt, c.728
Shabaka, Shabaqo716-702el Kurru
Conquers Egypt,
deposes all rulers, 715
Shebitku, Shebitqo702-690el Kurru
defeated by Assyrians in Syria, 701
Taharqa, Tirakah,
Esarhaddon invades Egypt,
drives Taharqa south, 671, 667
664-653el Kurru
Assyrian conquest of Egypt, sack of Thebes, 663; End of XXV Dynasty, but Kings continue at Napata until 308 BC
Anlamani (Anlami)623-593Nuri
Sack of Napata by Psamtik II, 593
[unknown]369-353el Kurru
Attempt to restore
Nectanebos II in Egypt
Kasḥ..merj ImenBarkal
Kings at Meroë, ,
308 BC-355 AD
Ergamenēs (Gk.)
[unknown king]190-185Meroë
[unknown king]185-170Meroë
Shanakdakhete 170-150Meroë
[unknown king]150-130Meroë
[unknown king]90-50Barkal
[unknown queen]Barkal
Attack on Aswan and Roman
counterattack, sack of Napata,
after 24 BC
Amanishakheto 10-1 BCMeroë
Natakamani1 BC-
20 AD
Amanitore Meroë
Shorkaror20 AD-30Meroë
Amanikhatashan 62-85Meroë
Roman expedition up Nile,
62 or 66/67 AD
Teqerideamani I90-114Meroë
[unknown king]225-246Meroë
[unknown king]246Meroë
Teqerideamani II246-266?
Diocletian withdraws Roman
forces to Aswan, 298
[unknown queen]300-308Meroë
[unknown queen]308-320Meroë
Kingdom overthrown (?) by
Abyssinian Ethiopia, c.355 AD
By Egyptian reckoning, Piꜥankhi (or Piye) founds the XXV Dynasty, the only certifiably "black" dynasty of Ancient Egypt (this is only an issue for
political reasons -- see the "blackwashing" of Cleopatra). Nubians in modern Egypt and the Sudan (although not necessarily the same people as the Kushites -- the languages are different) are still uniformly dark and clearly sub-Saharan looking compared to most modern Egyptians.

Such people, of course, had been under Egyptian rule for centuries and thought of themselves as Egyptian, which culturally they were. Indeed, the Egyptian Viceroy in Nubia, the "King's Son of Kush," the Viceroy of Kush, was for centuries one of the most powerful officials of the Kingdom, perhaps even the second in rank behind the King, like the British Viceroy of India.

The term "Kush" itself, , is Egyptian and was used by the Kushites:  the name of an early King, "Kashta," , actually means "Kushite." Kush is the kingdom that Manethō, the Greeks, and Romans, who were contemporaneous with its entire history, meant when they talked about "Ethiopia," Latin Aethiopia, Greek Αἰθιοπία, Aithiopía.

The Greek term was from Αἰθίοψ, Aithíops, "Ethiope" -- from aíthō, "burn," and óps, "face." "Burnt-face" gives us a very vivid image of the impression the Greeks had of the first black people they encountered. Since Kush was the only black kingdom known to the Greeks, the word easily became its name. The name, in our reckoning, if not the tradition, passed to Abyssinia when that already Christian kingdom succeeded Kush as the most noteworthy black state in the region. Even Abyssinia retained an Egyptian connection, since the Coptic Patriarch nominated the Primate of Ethiopia until late in the 20th century.

Apart from the word Αἰθίοψ itself, an indication of what the Greeks took Ethiopians to look like is in one of the sayings about religion by Xenophanes of Colophon. Xenophanes says that the gods of every nation just happen to look like the people of that nation. Thus,

Αἰθίοπές τε θεοὺς σφετέρους
σιμοὺς μέλανάς τε,
Θρῇκές τε γλαυκοὺς καὶ
πυῤῥούς φασι πέλεσθαι.

The Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair. [G.S. Kirk & J.E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, Cambridge, 1964, p.168]

Here σιμός is "snub-nosed," which was also applied to Socrates and by Herodotus to the Scythians, and μέλας (genitive μέλανος) is "black" -- a word familiar from "melanoma," a kind of skin cancer, and from a racist statement of Friedrich Nietzsche. Both words are in the accusative plural, to agree in case and number with "their own gods."

The contrast is with the Thracians, who are γλαυκός, "blue (eyed)," and πυῤῥός, "red (haired)." "Blue-eyed" is the name of Plato's brother Γλαύκων, whom we find in the Republic. Similarly, the most famous King of Epirus was Pyrrhus, Πύῤῥος, "Red," which in Latin would be "Rufus," a name that we still see occasionally.

We have a very full and personally revealing account in Egyptian by Piꜥankhi of his invasion of Egypt in (about) 728, preserved on a stele at Napata, (at the Jabal Barkal), including instructions to his generals on the ethical principles they are to observe when engaging the enemy -- i.e. give them a fair, stand-up fight. No tricky stratagems, surprises, or deceptions. The Libyan dynasts, defeated anyway with so scrupulous an enemy, were at first (mostly) forgiven and (some) allowed to continue as vassals of Napata. After their inevitable scheming and betrayals, they were cleaned out by Shabaka, , who occupied Egypt and moved to Tanis.

Piꜥankhi is still a traditional devotee of the god Amon, upon whom he relies, with some apparent justification, for victory -- the element Amani (which appears to have the proper Egyptian vowel -- "Amen," "Amon," and "Amun" are all wrong -- this was already known from Akkadian texts) will be noted in the names of many Napatan and Meroitic Kings.

The Jabal Barkal near Napata was a cult center of Amon established as early as the XVIII Dynasty, restored and long maintained by the Kushites. A striking and unusual rock spire on the front of the Jabal Barka was variously interpreted as an image of the god Osiris, Amon, or others. Piꜥankhi placed an inscription at the top of the spire, which even today is not easily accessed.

In the year 701, the Egyptians were trying to support cities in Syria that had ceased paying tribute to Assyria. While the King would have been Shebitku, , of our XXV Dynasty, to the Asiatics he was still just "Pharaoh King of Egypt," Φαραὼ Βασιλεὺς Αἰγύπτου. But Shebitku's forces were defeated; and when the Assyrians appeared before Jerusalem, according to 2 Kings 18:21, they taunted the King of Judah that Egypt was no more than a staff of "crushed reed," that would pierce the hand of anyone relying on it. This passage is cited here and discussed in a footnote.

The image of the "crushed reed" is often given as emblematic of the decline of Egypt, with the irony that Egypt wasn't even ruled by Egyptians at the time, but by Kushites. The sequel is also uncertain. The Bible says that many died in the camp of the Assyrians [2 Kings 19:35], which Herodotus places at Pelusium, after the Assyrians had advanced on Egypt in retaliation for Egyptian action in Syria. Some historians doubt this episode, but disease in a military camp is nothing unusual, the Bible doesn't mention that this was part of an invasion of Egypt, and there is no doubt that the Assyrians had their sights on the country.

Taharqa, , was then the King who had to face the full wrath of the Assyrians. Esarhaddon successfully invaded Egypt in 671. This drove the Kushites up the Nile, but it did not discourage their return when the Assyrians left. But Esarhaddon's invasion was followed by another by Ashurbanipal in 669, which got as far as Thebes.

After the Assyrians left, Tanutamun, , regained the country all the way to Memphis, killed Neko of Sais, who was ruling for the Assyrians; but he was then utterly defeated by Ashurbanipal, who returned in 663 and in revenge stripped and looted the great temple of Amon at Karnak of its age old treasures. This seems to have broken the enthusiasm of the Kushites.

Tanutamun retired to Napata, and just before his death it was Psamtik I of Sais who definitively expelled the Assyrians, who had become distracted with other problems. Nevertheless, Tanutamun's line continued at Napata, and up the Nile at Meroë, for many centuries, in fact a thousand years, not only ruling as good Egyptian kings, always calling themselves "King of Upper and Lower Egypt," but actually building pyramids, as at right, for their burial, turning Egypt's one black dynasty into a separate historic black African kingdom, whose rulers were often Queens as well as Kings.

The pyramids were not all that big by Egyptian standards, but they are all in stone, unlike the mudbrick pyramids of the XII Dynasty, and there are more of them than in Egypt itself, thanks to the longevity of the regime. They were built at four sites, El Kurru, Nuri, and Barkal near Napata, and then at Meroë, where the capital moved some time between 590 and 308. Tombs are known for nearly all of the Kings, and the locations are indicated in the list.

Meroë also became a great center of iron smelting, a resource of which Egypt itself was innocent. Slag heaps, which in the modern world would be regarded as toxic waste, constitute the most obvious evidence of the existence and duration of this industry.

Although many Kushite inscriptions are in Egyptian, we also find a different system increasingly written over the years, "Meroitic" hieroglyphics and script. The affinities of the language written in Meriotic have not been identified, and it is today still very imperfectly understood -- in fact the meaning of only 26 words have been identified, largely from Egyptian-Meroitic bilingual inscriptions. Consequently, the purport of many inscriptions and papyri remains concealed. This leaves us, despite the frustration of texts and documents in our possession, without much autochthonous testimony to Kushite history.

Unlike Egyptian, the Meroitic system, which developed its own alphabetic characters, began to indicate vowels, which gives us the full vocalization of the royal names given. The hieroglyphic version of this alphabet is listed at right. Some characters can have a syllabic as well as alphabetic force. There are glyphs with identical sounds in Egyptian, like m and n; the l is the same as that used in Late Egyptian to write the l in Greek names; and the y is familiar from Egyptian. The word divider is something that the Egyptians, or the Greeks and Romans before the Middle Ages, never bothered with. It is an unusual, ironic, and frustrating situation that the Meroitic texts can be read easily, which we cannot even do with Egyptian, but then not understood.

I was long under the impression that the Abyssinians (Axumites) overthrew Meroë around 355 AD. But now it looks like there is little evidence for this. The Abyssinians did press down to the Nile. Around 350, the Emperor Ezanas II erected a stele at the juncture of the Nile and Atbara rivers, not far north of Meroë, commemorating his expedition. Kush already seems to have been in decline, and there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason for it. We don't even have the names of the last three rulers. So Ezanas either simply finished off the realm, or he was stepping into a vacuum. The most obvious record of Kushite history, the line of pyramids, simply ends.

In part, the ideological basis of the regime may have been undermined by Christianity. By 355, all the surrounding states, Egypt, Abyssinia (with Ezanas), and Rome, were Christian. The last named Kushite ruler, Yesbokheamani (283-300), still bears the name of Amon. Pyramids are not going to qualify as Christian funerary monuments. There is no telling what happened, but the times were not going to allow the traditional regime to continue as it was.

The list of Kings of Napata down to Nastasen (335-315 BC) was originally from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. I was not aware that so complete a list existed or that the chronology was so well known, since I had only seen this one list and was not familiar with all the archeology or epigraphic work. Gordon gave none of the subsequent Kings at Meroë. He also said that the Kings relocated to Meroë in 590, after Psamtik II sacked Napata (593), which is possible, although the move has not manifestly happened until 308 BC.

The attack of Psamtik on Napata involved no more than temporary occupation, looting, and destruction but seems to have been part of a larger program of the XXVI Dynasty to deny the Kushite Kings any legitimacy as Kings of Egypt. Thus, the Egyptians, who to some were themselves Black, can now also join the ranks of those accused of racism, for their bias and violence against the black Kushites -- although perhaps the out here is that the XXVI Dynasty might be said to be of Libyan extraction, and not really Egyptian (although Libya is in "Africa," which sometimes is used as an argument that anyone, including the Carthaginian Hannibal Barca, must have been Black).

It is sometimes even said that Psamtik wiped out the memory of Piꜥankhi, etc., in Egypt. However, this is obviously not true, since Manetho assigned the designation of the XXV Dynasty to the Kushites, which means he had records of them and he was himself not biased against placing them in the successon of Egyptian Kings. Whatever memory may have lingered of the policy or attitudes of the XXVI Dynasty, there must have been no hard feelings, since the Kushites subsequently tried to restore Nectanebos II, of the XXX Dynasty, after he had been deposed by the Persians. Nectanebos had, of course, fled to Kush. A footnote to that is that Nectanebos had to abandon his sarcophagus, which may actually have been used for Alexander the Great.

This issue of Napata and Meroë is of interest. If the capital moved to Meroë in 390, pyramids were nevertheless still built at Napata. It may be more like both cities functioned as capitals until the later (308 BC) date. Indeed, now it is not clear that there was a fixed capital. A number of Royal residences are listed in the records, and it looks like the Court may have moved between them, without any particular preference for a national administrative center. It is simply unknown why pyramids started being built at Meroë when they did.

I was frustrated with the incomplete list in Gordon. Now, however, I have been referred to a very full account of Kush with the complete list of Kings as now given. This is The Kingdom of Kush, the Napatan and Merotic Empires by Derek A. Welsby [British Museum Press, 1996]. There seems to have been a great deal of archeological work recently in Nubia and the Sudan, and rather more in the past than I was aware of; and Welsby's book looks to be the present locus classicus for this subject.

Welsby presents the king list with many cautions. It has been reconstructed from the tombs with many problems persisting about the chronology. The existence of many round numbers in the list is a good indication of the speculative elements in the dating. Although Welsby mentions that there are several ruling Queens, and names four in the text, he does not give a systematic list, so not all the female () rulers may be indicated.

A Queen of the Ethiopians is mentioned in the New Testament:

[Acts 8:27]  And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace [Κανδάκη, Kandákē] queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship...

As it happens, this now common name, "Candace," was not a proper name, but the title of the Queen of Kush, , whether a ruling Queen or the mother of the heir. That one of the Queen's eunuch's would be going to Jerusalem to worship testifies to a Jewish presence in Kush, which we know about from other Classical sources (including Jewish forces stationed at Aswan under the Persians and Jewish mercenaries under the XXVI Dynasty, some of whom decamped to Kush, which occasions a rude story in Herodotus). It does not seem to have left any evidence in the archeology.

Modern Ethiopians tend to assume that any Biblical reference to "Ethiopia" means them, i.e. Abyssinians. However, "Candace" is a Kushite, not an Abyssinian, title. The reference to the Queen's eunuch going to Jerusalem is tied to the legend that the Abyssinian Kingdom began with Menelik I, who was supposed to be the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, rending the Kingdom, in effect, Jewish. That there has been a surviving Jewish community in Ethiopia, the Falashas (most have now moved to Israel), has led to endless dispute and speculation about its origin. The origin, indeed, for all we know, could have been from Kush.

In Greek mythology, Andromeda was supposed to have been a Princess of Ethiopia, the daughter of King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia -- although it is now said that "Ethiopia" in this context is Palestine rather than Kush -- indeed, even Greek images of Andromeda have her looking more Phoenician than African. Because Cassiopeia boasted she was more beautiful than the Nereid Sea Nymphs (who included Thetis, the mother of Achilles), this angered Poseidon, who sent the monster Cetus (now used as the scientific generic name for "whale" -- the Order Cetacea) to ravage the coast of Ethiopia (or Palestine, which is rather more dependent on its coast). An oracle advised that Andromeda be sacrificed to the monster; and she consequently was chained naked to a rock by the sea. Fortunately, the hero Perseus found her, killed Cetus, freed and married Andromeda. Their children were the subsequent Kings of Mycenae, Tiryns, and other places

Every name in this mythology is now applied to a constellation, with Andromeda's own name passing to the Great Spiral Nebula in Andromeda, the most distant object visible to the naked eye. Furthermore, certain variable stars, the Cepheids, named after the constellation Cepheus, were used by Edwin Hubble to gauge the distance of such nebulae and prove that they were external galaxies, as predicted by Immanuel Kant.

Welsby's book happens to be mentioned in a good source on the Meroitic script, Lost Lanugages, The Enigma of The World's Undeciphered Scripts, by Andrew Robinson [McGraw Hill, 2002], "Voices of the Black Pharaohs" [pp.140-155].

After the fall of Kush, small Christian kingdoms succeeded it in Nubia. These are also chronicled by Derek A. Welsby in The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia [British Museum Press, 2002], which picks up more or less where The Kingdom of Kush leaves off, though without the chronological skeleton that the line of pyramids provided.

Emperors of Ethiopia, Abyssinia

Egyptian History continued

Index of Egyptian History

Philosophy of History

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