The Third Intermediate Period (around 1070 BCE – 664 or 525 BCE) began when King Ramesses XI died, and the New Kingdom collapsed.
It was another era of decline, disunity, and foreign rule in Egypt. It happened during the Late Bronze Age when many other ancient civilizations fell too.
The Twenty-first Dynasty was characterized by the fracturing of Egypt‘s kingship. Smendes I ruled from Tanis, but was mostly active in Lower Egypt, while the High Priests of Amun ruled Middle and Upper Egypt.
The Tale of Wenamun mentions Smendes, who founded the 21st Dynasty but made no mention of Ramesses XI or the court at Per Ramesses. It also mentions that Egypt had fallen in prestige among its neighbors.
Smendes, who was powerful enough to make a note of, had control of Lower Egypt and not much else, and the High Priest Herihor had little influence outside of Thebes.
The kings of the 21st Dynasty were most likely Libyans ruling under Egyptian names. They may have thought they were co-ruling Egypt.
22nd Dynasty and 23rd Dynasty
With the establishment of the Twenty-second Dynasty by Shoshenq I in 945 BC, the country was firmly united. But after Osorkon II the country had effectively split into two states. Civil war engulfed Thebes in 818 BC and was only resolved in Year 39 of Shoshenq III.
The Nubian kingdom to the south took full advantage of the political instability in Egypt and defeated several native Egyptian rulers, including Takelot III’s sister.
As governors, Piye appointed the defeated rulers of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty. The 25th Dynasty was as large as the New Kingdom, and its rulers built or restored temples and monuments throughout the Nile valley.
Egypt‘s international prestige had declined considerably by this time, and the Assyrians had realized that conquest of Lower Egypt was necessary to protect Assyrian interests in the Levant. Consequently, Taharqa’s reign and that of his successor Tantamani were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians.
The 26th Dynasty
The Assyrians left Egypt under the reign of Necho I (c. 666 BCE), but his son Psammeticus I (also known as Psamtik I, c. 665-610 BCE) was planning the overthrow of the Assyrians. He launched an assault on Thebes and forced his daughter Nitocris I to become a god.
Psammeticus I was a strong leader who restored Egypt’s glory through monumental projects, renovations, restorations, and military achievements. His son, Necho II, built upon his father’s accomplishments by leading military campaigns, commissioning building projects, and expanding the military.
Necho II’s son Psammeticus II continued his father’s policies and led a force against the Kingdom of Kush in Nubia, but ultimately returned to Egypt. He may have tried to erase his own father’s name from history.
When Psammeticus II died, his son Wahibre Haaibre (better known as Apries) challenged his authority but was killed by Amasis II, who elevated Egypt to a height it had not known in centuries. His son Psammeticus III (Psamtik III) was inexperienced and poorly equipped.
The Persian king Cambyses II was insulted by Amasis’ decision to send the daughter of Apries as his wife and sent a ‘fake wife’ in return.
Cambyses II mobilized the Persian army and marched on Egypt but was driven back until he painted the image of Bastet on their shields and drove the animals against the city’s walls.
During his triumphal march, Cambyses II hurled cats from a bag into the Egyptians’ faces in contempt. Psammeticus III, the royal family, and thousands of others were taken back to Susa, where most of them were executed.
Facts about The Third Intermediate Period
- Pharaoh Smendes I founded the twenty-first dynasty in Egypt. His capital city was Tanis, not Thebes, and only Lower Egypt was under his control. Middle and Upper Egypt were virtually controlled by the High Priests of the Egyptian god Amun at Thebes.
- The twenty-second dynasty rulers were not native Egyptians – their family belonged to the Meshwesh immigrants who came from Ancient Libya. Nevertheless, the founder of the dynasty, Pharaoh Shoshenq I, brought another brief era of stability to Egypt. The country was united for over a century, but then, after the death of Osorkon II, it split again.
- Near the end of the ninth century BCE, Egypt was divided into two states. Shoshenq of the twenty-second dynasty controlled lower Egypt, and Middle and Upper Egypt were under the control of Takelot II and, later, Osorkon III.
- Meanwhile, Pedubast I proclaimed himself pharaoh and tried to establish a new dynasty in Thebes. This resulted in civil war.
- The civil war winner was Osorkon III, who established the twenty-third dynasty in Upper Egypt. Two generations later, Upper Egypt was further divided into city-states, controlled by local rulers – some of them were later labeled as the twenty-fourth dynasty rulers.
- Around 732 BCE, the Nubian King Piye routed the joint army of Egyptian rulers and established the Nubian twenty-fifth dynasty. The defeated Egyptian local rulers became his provincial governors. Piye’s successors were Shabaka, Shebitku, and Taharqa.
- Egypt was remarkably stable and powerful during the rule of the Nubian dynasty. Its pharaohs, especially Taharqa, restored temples and monuments – and build new ones – in cities throughout the Nile valley. They constructed their pyramids at Napata. At some point after Pharaoh Taharqa’s death, his successors retreated to Napata and the dynasty later formed the Kingdom of Kush.
- The Assyrians conquered the major Egyptian cities of Thebes and Memphis in 664 BCE and established a line of client kings – the twenty-sixth dynasty in Lower Egypt. These kings, however, made use of the later instability of the Assyrian empire and set free of their influence.
- The Third Intermediate Period ended with the Assyrian conquest. However, soon after that, Pharaoh Psamtik I reunited Egypt and ruled for 54 years from the city of Sais. During his reign – and the reign of his next three successors – Egypt was firm and prosperous. This period is known as the Late Period, and it ended when, in 525 BCE, the Persian Empire conquered Egypt, and the Persian King Cambyses declared himself pharaoh.
What did you learn?
Who controlled Thebes at the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period?
Thebes was under control of the High Priests of Amun.
Who founded the twenty-first dynasty in Egypt and moved the capital to Tanis?
It was Pharaoh Smendes I.
Which dynasty of foreign origin ruled Egypt until the Assyrians came and sacked the country?
It was the Nubian twenty-fifth dynasty.
Which period began when the Third Intermediate Period ended?
It was the Late Period.
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