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Egypt: History - Dynasty XII (Twenty-first Dynasty)


Twenty-first Dynasty


Throughout the eleventh and following centuries before our era, the essential duality of the land of the Pharaohs found novel and unexpected expression. The initial stage could not have been better characterized than was done by the ill-starred envoy Wenamun. Egypt was now governed from two separate capitals, Thebes in the south and Tanis in the north. The relations between the two halves of the country were amicable and cooperative. For the moment the kingship was in abeyance. Wenamun is insistent in maintaining that everywhere, not in Egypt alone, the overlordship belonged to the Theban god Amun, earthly monarchs being mere mortals. We have now to show how this situation developed. The absence of a Pharaoh could not be long tolerated, and Nesbanebded quickly asserted his claim. The name means 'He who belongs to the Ram of Djede--Djede being the important town in the center of the Delta known to the Greeks as Mendes. Manetho heads his TWENTY-FIRST DYNASTY of seven Tanite kings with Smendes, a pronunciation of Nesbanebded doubtless not far wide of the mark. As a native of Djede, Smendes can have had no personal right to the throne. It seems obvious that, apart form his own vigorous character, he owed his kingship to Tentamun, whose name tells its own tale and whom Wenamun always represents as associated with him. Clearly she was the link binding Thebes and Tanis so closely together. It is nevertheless odd that Thebes accepted the suzerainty of Tanis so submissively. The sole surviving record of Smendes's reign is a much damaged inscription on a pillar in a quarry at Gebelen. Here it is related how Smendes sat in his palace at Memphis excogitating some pious deed that might do him honor. On its being represented to him that a colonnade built by Tuthmosis III at Luxor was subject to flooding up to the roof, he sent three thousand workmen to hew the sandstone necessary for the repairs. So not only had Smendes moved his official residence to the extreme north of the Delta, but also he found himself free to undertake building operations well to the south of Thebes. Nothing of the kind is attested for his successors, whose remains in Middle and Upper Egypt amount to no more than some mentions in a small temple of Isis at the foot of the Great Pyramid, a chapel of Siamun at Memphis, and a few unimportant objects found at Abydos. Nonetheless, it is certain that they were regarded as the sole legitimate Pharaohs, not only by themselves, but also by posterity. Manetho's enumeration of dynasties never again refers to Thebes, and it appears that nearly all the dates found in the inscriptions there are in terms of the Tanite reigns. To be buried in the Biban el-Moluk was no longer an aspiration, and Montet's excavations at Tanis have brought to light in that place the tombs of Psusennes I and of Amenemope, the second and third monarchs of the dynasty, if the probably ephemeral Neferkare' be ignored. These sepulchers are, however, mean and insignificant structures when compared with the great gallery tombs to the west of Thebes, not to speak of the mighty pyramids of earlier times. Neither is the degeneracy of the new regime more than thinly disguised by the rich jewelry with which Montet's many years of patient digging were rewarded.


At Thebes the pattern of government bequeathed to his descendants by Hrihor was continued by them with but little change. The high-priesthood was held successively by Pay'onkh, Pinudjem I, Masaherta, Menkheperre', and Pinudjem II, passing from father to son except in the case of Menkheperre' who was preceded by his brother. Together with their sacerdotal title all these pontiffs assumed that of 'Great Commander of the Army' or even 'Great Commander of the Army of the entire land', clearly indicating the unsettled state of the country. The occasional additions of 'Vizier' or 'King's Son of Cush' are probably merely traditional. It cannot be doubted that there were ties of marriage and friendship between the two capitals which made their co-existence natural and perhaps even necessary. The god Amun having been adopted at Tanis, it might possibly be wrong to deduce Theban birth from the names of the northern Pharaohs Amenemope and Siamun, but the very unusual Psusennes, meaning 'The Star which arose in Thebes', cannot be denied significance. Alone among the contemporary high-priests of Amen-Re' Pinudjem I definitely asserted his right to be regarded as the Pharaoh, taking to himself a Prenomen as well as a Nomen, but even with him the records bearing his name write it more frequently without a cartouche. Extremely curious is the fact that at Tanis Psusennes I often uses the epithet 'high-priest of Amen-Re', and even once in a very full titulary describes himself as 'great of monuments in Ipet-eswe', i.e. at Karnak.

The part played by women in ancient Egypt had always been great, but at this juncture it was greater than ever. The inscriptions are abnormally communicative in the use of such epithets as 'King's Daughter', 'King's Great Wife'. However, the establishment of flawless genealogies has thus far proved a baffling task. It has to be admitted that research on this topic is still in its infancy. A perplexing feature of the problem is that the same female name was often born by several individuals. The title 'God's Wife of Amun', of which the first component goes back far into the past, has won an ever increasing political importance, though its exact implications are mysterious. Under Pinudjem I the Ma'kare' who bears this title is depicted as a mere child, though she has often been credited with being his wife. Very possibly she was the daughter of Psusennes I. She is certainly to be distinguished from a later Ma'kare' who was a daughter of the Tanite king Psusennes II and whose rights as an heiress were set forth on a long inscription in the temple of Karnak. This is but one example of the difficulties which cluster round the names of such princesses as Henutowe, Isimkheb, and others. Here it need only be added that some of these royal ladies enjoyed no inconsiderable wealth through their tenure of priestly offices. For instance Neskhons, the well-known wife of Pinudjem II, is described on a coffin bearing her name as

first chief of the concubines of Amen-Re', King of the Gods; Major-domo of the house of Mut the great, lady of Ashru; prophetess of Anhur-Shu the son of Re'; prophetess of Min, Horus, and Isis in Ipu; prophetess of Horus, lord of Djuef; god's mother of Chons the child, first one of Amen-Re', King of the Gods; and chief of noble ladies,

to which an accompanying column of inscription adds four more local priesthoods. Unhappily the name of Neskhons has been painted over that of Isimkheb to whom, therefore, these titles doubtless properly belong. If the localities mentioned in them are to be taken seriously, it would seem that the Theban influence extended far northwards into Middle Egypt, a fact confirmed at El-Hiba by bricks bearing the names of the high-priests Pinudjem I and Menkheperre. Of El-Hiba we shall hear again in connection with Dyn. XXII. These complications are typical of the difficulties which attended the unraveling of the problems of Dyn. XXI. Further attempts at elucidation must be left to the future. The material is abundant, but mostly ambiguous. Here we must content ourselves with giving some account of two great discoveries by which the views of the historians have been completely transformed.

In the last quarter of our nineteenth century objects belonging to Dyn. XXI had long been finding their way into the antiquities' market, and their abundance and evident importance made it clear that some of the inhabitants of Kurna had lighted upon a tomb or cache of an altogether exceptional kind. By 1881 official investigation could no longer be delayed, and G. Maspero, then Director of the Antiquities Service, took the matter energetically in hand. In course of time suspicion narrowed itself down to the 'Abd er-Rasul family. All attempts to make the finds divulge the secret failed until the eldest of them, realizing that this was about to be betrayed by one or other of his brothers, resolved to steal a march upon them. Consequently the discovery of the wonderful hiding-place of so many of the royal mummies which has been partially described or alluded to in earlier pages of the present work. A deep shaft to the south of the valley of Der el-Bahri led down into a long passage ending in a burial-chamber which had been originally occupied by a half-forgotten queen Inha'py. Coffins, mummies, and other funerary furniture were found piled up in this inconspicuous burial-place, having been brought there after considerable peregrinations by successors of Hrihor. Almost since the times of their actual burial the mighty kings of Dyns. XVII to XX had been exposed to violation and theft on the part of the rapacious inhabitants of the Theban necropolis, and it was only as a last frantic effort to put an end to such sacrilege that the high-priests of Dyn. XXI intervened. This they could do with greater confidence since the golden ornaments and other precious possessions had long ago disappeared, so that little more than the coffins and corpses remained to be salvaged. However, for the modern world thus to recover the remains of many of the greatest Pharaohs was a sensation till then unequaled in the annals of archaeology. To be able to gaze upon the actual features of such famous warriors as Tuthmosis III and Sethos I was a privilege that could be legitimately allowed to the serious historian, though it was for a time denied to the merely curious. Besides the nine kings who were found there were a number of their queens, as well as some princes and lesser personages. Hieratic dockets on certain coffins or mummy wrappings disclosed the dates of the reburials and the authorities responsible for them. More important from the purely historical point of view were the intact coffins of high-priests of Dyn. XXI and their womenfolk. The hieroglyphic inscriptions furnishing no small portion of the material for the discussions contained in Maspero's fundamental monograph on the find. Among the latest burials were those of Pinudjem II and his already-mentioned spouse Neskhons. After them the cache was sealed up in the tenth year of the Tanite king Siamun, but was reopened once more in the reign of King Shoshenk I in order to enter a priest of Amun named Djedptahef'onkh.

In 1891, just ten years after the discovery above described, the same native of Kurna who had divulged the secret of the royal mummies pointed out to E. Grebaut (Maspero's successor as Director of the Service) a spot to the north of the temple of Der el-Bahri where a tomb of altogether exceptional importance could be expected. A few blows with a pick revealed a shaft leading to a gallery nearly 80 yards long followed by a rather shorter northerly gallery at a somewhat lower level. Here G. Daressy, placed in charge of the operations, came upon no less than 153 coffins, 101 of them double and 52 single, together with many boxes of ushabti-figures, Osirian statuettes of which some enclosed papyri, as well as other objects of lesser interest. Near the entrance the coffins were in utter disorder, but farther inwards they were stacked up against the walls in opposite rows leaving a passage-way in the midst. An innermost chamber had been reserved for the family of the high-priest Menkheperre', but later the galleries were used indiscriminately for members of the priesthood of Amen-Re'. The actual mummy-cases were generally of anthropoid shape covered with polychromatic religious scenes and inscriptions finished off with a yellow varnish. For the historian they had little value except as giving the names and titles of their owners, among whom there were a certain number of women, mainly temple musicians. Of great importance, on the other hand, are the leather braces and pendants found upon the mummies, for they frequently depict the contemporary or an earlier high-priest standing in front of Amun or another deity. Of perhaps greater interest are the legends often written upon the mummy-cloth, since these usually state the date at which it was made. Here, in a word, we have a primary source for the clarification of this complicated dynasty.

From the end of Dyn. XX onwards the outstanding feature of the Theban administration was its recourse to oracular decisions on all occasions. We have seen how under the high-priest Pay'onkh a temple appointment was effected by this method, the great god Amen-Re' halting his processional bark to nod approval when the right name was presented to him. Later when the inheritance of the princess Ma'kare' was in dispute, it was Amen-Re', accompanied by the goddess Mut and the child-god Chons, the two other members of his triad, who decided the issue. Again, when Menkheperre' became high-priest his first act was to inquire from the supreme god whether certain persons who had been banished to the oasis could now be pardoned and allowed to return to Thebes. To judge by the size of a great inscription engraved on a wall at Karnak the trial of an official for dishonesty which Pinudjem II was called upon to initiate must have been one of exceptional importance. In this trial a whole series of questions were addressed to the deity, who seems to have been unwilling to proceed to his yearly ceremonial visit to Luxor until the matter was settled. The first step consisted in placing before him two tablets, the one affirming and the other denying that there was a case calling for investigation. In short, so far as our limited material goes, there was no subject demanding the high-priest's personal intervention which was not settled by an oracular response. A lengthy papyrus found in the Der el-Bahri cache shows that even the dead could be protected in the same manner; the following are two brief extracts:

Hath spoken Amen-Re', King of the Gods, the great mighty god who was the first to come into being: I will deify Neskhons, the daughter of Thendhout, in the West, I will deify her in the necropolis; I will cause her to receive water of the West, I will cause her to receive offerings in the necropolis.

And then a little later:

I will turn the heart of Neskhons, the daughter of Thendhout, and she shall not do any evil thing to Pinudjem, the child of Isimkheb; I will turn her heart, and will not allow her to curtail his life; I will turn her heart, and will not allow her to cause to be done to him anything which is detrimental to the heart of a living man.

These last phrases are the more interesting, since they throw some light on the connubial relations of the now familiar princess Neskhons and her husband the high-priest Pinudjem. But still more important is the exordium to the same papyrus, which shows how great a change had come over the concept of the supreme Theban deity since the beginning of the Ramesside period. The epithets given to Amen-Re' are more remarkable for what they suppress than for what they disclose. Mythological traits are sternly excluded, and if the solar nature is still explicit in his time-honored name, all that is now asserted in that 'being an old man he begins the morning as a youth'. A little later we are told quite inconsistently that 'his right eye an his left eye are the sun and moon'. Great stress is laid upon his essence as the primordial deity from whom every god came into being. His uniqueness and his inscrutable nature are strongly emphasized, use being made of the play of words between his name and the verb-stem amen 'to be hidden'. The existence of other deities is ignored rather than denied, and there was no persecution of them as in the Aten period. Indeed, as already noted, his daughter Mut and the youthful moon-god Chons, both localized in the Karnak area, are inseparable from him in the religious ceremonies, having barks of their own following his in the festival processions. It will be realized that, though in this newly developed concept of Amen-Re', the Theban priesthood came very near to a monotheistic cult. This monotheism was of a markedly different character from that promulgated by the heretic king Akhenaten. It would be interesting could we confidently diagnose the reasons for the over-exaltation of the mighty Theban deity. Had the chaotic conditions of the times brought about an abnormal upsurge of religiosity? Or were the priests anxious to shift from their own heads the responsibility for anything that might get them into trouble? However this may be, the immense prestige of the god served as a useful foil to the Tanite royalty, the factual dominance of which could thus be admitted without much self-abasement.

Since the sequence and the mutual relationships of the Theban high-priests are firmly established, the like is not true of the Tanite rulers. For the first four we may probably accept Manetho's order of Smendes, Psusennes, Nephercheres, and Amenophthis, but the Osochor whom he gives as his fifth name must be suspected of being borrowed from Dyn. XXII. While for the Psinaches that follows no hieroglyphic equivalent can be suggested. Here, however, must be inserted that Siamun who sealed up the great Der el-Bahri cache, and who is known to have reigned into his seventeenth year. At the end of the dynasty Manetho names a second Psusennes, and this, as we shall see, is confirmed by the monuments. It has, however, sometimes been supposed that there was yet a third Psusennes, who would have to be distinguished from Psusennes II. The chronology of Dyn. XXI is even more debatable than the order of its monarchs. Africanus gives 26 years to Smendes, 46 to Psusennes I, and 14 to Psusennes II, with much shorter periods for the rest, but the early sources are silent for all three reigns. On the other hand a mislaid piece of linen reported by Daressy named according to him a year 49 of Amenemope, but this is extremely improbable, since the tomb at Tanis in which his mummy originally lay is of the humblest description, in no way comparable to that of Psusennes I, its next-door neighbor. For this stretch of time there are no synchronisms to help, but Manetho's total of 130 years can hardly be lowered without doing violence to the general chronological picture which the experts have deemed to be necessary. That so little is heard of the relations of Egypt to Palestine and the countries beyond was the natural result of her own divided state. Since Assyria as well was fully occupied with her own internal troubles Palestine and Syria had been able to develop small, but nevertheless thriving, kingdoms of their own. Phoenicia, Philistia, Israel, Moab, and Edom, each of which had no more formidable adversaries to contend with than its neighbors in the adjacent areas. Trade and other cultural contacts with the greater powers on the Nile and the Euphrates will have continued to exist, but causes for political friction or military measures will have been sedulously avoided.

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Last Updated: Aug 1st, 2011

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