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The End of Pharaonic Egypt

Compiled by CIAS staff
The Reign of Pharaoh Nectanebo II

While the beginnings of the first pharaonic kings of Egypt is still a matter of putting ones trust in the assertions of one or the other historian, one might think that more would be known about the last of the pharaohs. In the thinking of most probably, the 30th Dynasty represents the last of the native pharaonic kings in Egypt since that dynasty was followed by Persian rulers who are known today as the 31st Dynasty. However, the last native Egyptian king came and went without much fanfare and no announcement, speech or stele marks his departure. It is as if the Egyptians or any other people were unaware that a remarkable era of their history reaching so far back in time had come to an end.

While the history of the 30th Dynasty, as we represent it at this website is quite different than we learn about it in modern history books, we may want to point out once more the critical details leading us to this conclusion. This time we want to study the reign of the first Persian representative of the 31st Dynasty to find out if that could shed any light on our query for after all, a ruler who is being dismissed or dethroned has hardly any chance or recourse to make a parting statement and ensure being remembered forever.

Name of Nakhthoreb interpreted to be Nectanebo II It was the Persian monarch Artaxerxes III [358-338 BC] who was the contemporary of Nectanebo II. Nectanebo II's reign is described as upholding the old values Egypt had been known for for such a long period of time. Because of internal struggles in the royal succession in Persia Egypt had a respite and degree of independence. But by 350 BC Artaxerxes had sufficiently reestablished his authority to try and return Egypt to its former state of vassalage as it existed under the satrap Arsames. By 343 BC Nectanebo II fought his enemies by the eastern delta's Nile branch near Pelusium. But his delta strong points as well as Pelusium and Memphis fell to the onslaught of Persian units and their Greek allies.

As we already pointed out elsewhere modern historians attribute artifacts like the well known grey whacke Horus falcon now located at the Metropolitan Museum in New York to Nectanebo II - a name that never appears on Egyptian artifacts. When scholars read the name `Nekhthorheb' a translation occurs in their mind and Nectanebo II comes out the other end. Therefore we must ask who is the diminutive ruler represented between the legs of the famous Horus falcon statuary displayed in the Met? Examining the falcon we find on the prominent base the hieroglyphics which should help us to find out who the person is. The inscription contains the name circle of Nekhthoreb and reads, 'Strong [the harpesh] is Horus of Behbeit [the shrine]'.

With that in mind who does the sarcophagus then belong to which is often mentioned as one originally made for Nectanebos II? Again, even this well known sarcophagus bears the name of Nekhthorheb, the governor and treasurer of the estates of the Persian satrap Arsames. His duties included the collection of import duties as `governor of the entrances [to Egypt] by land and sea.' Being a representative of the Persian overlords in Egypt, Nekhthorheb took care not to antagonize the local population any further and respected their religious institutions and customs as evidenced by the artifacts found bearing his name. But his time was not the middle of the 4th century but the last part of the 5th century BC. He lived and worked before Nectanebo I/Ramses III was pharaoh in Egypt in the days of the Persian king Darius II. Further evidence on the history of Nekhthorheb is found in our file on the temple of Ummubaydah. [100]

Convention assigns Sebenytos, today's Samanud, as the capital of the 30th Dynasty. Blocks of stone were found bearing the serekh and prenomen of this ruler (fig. 1 & 2). [130]

Archaeological Discoveries and Nectanebo II

The Chnum Temple of Elephantine [140] bears characteristics of the construction methods of Nectanebo II. The phases of his constructions underlay those of the Ptolemaic kings and are characterized by Nectanebo using a) his own type of sized and shaped blocks, and b) his type of fine whitish gypsum mortar [150] while the Ptolemies used c) a reddish-brown mortar.

Dateable material found included a coin of the early period of Ptolemy II. [285- ca. 270/260 BC] found outside the temple area and outside of the surround wall. A bronze coin of Ptolemy IV [ca. 170 BC] was found outside the northern courtyard wall and was understood as confirming the dating of the area.

In revised view, Nectanebo II was Ramses VI (354-342 BC) based on Greek historical information, some 70 years before Ptolemy II. Convention dates Nectanebo II from 360-343 BC. However, the conventional Nectanebo, we believe, based on cartouche information from Egypt, was Nekht-horheb, administrator of the estate of Arsames. A fragment bearing the partial cartouche assigned to Nectanebo II was found. But Nekhthorheb was active starting around 407 BC for an unknown time span but probably cut short by the enthronement of Ramses III/Nectanebo I if not already in the days of Setnakht/Acoris [393-380 BC]. If he lived long he could have been an old man in the days of Ramses VI. We then would assign the cartouche to this Persian period administrator of southern Egypt in the days when there was no native, royal king enthroned. These administrative rulers left the Egyptian clergy and tradtional institutions in place to carry on their functions as they always had. They also were caught up in this milieu of royalty worship which they appropriated for themselves. His inscription at Chnum reads like this, "Behdeti, great god, lord of heaven, with colorful featherwork, who comes out of the horizon, may he give life and prosperity." "Long live the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, lord of the Two Lands, S., beloved of Chnum-Re, lord of the cataracts region, who is given every live, length, and prosperity, like Re, forever." [190]

Telling the story from the reign of Ramses VI point of view

When modern history books talk about the reign of Ramses VI the chapter is often quite short since little is known about this king who, in conventional view, is dated between 1141-1133 BC, but who we must assign from about 354-343/2 BC. At any rate, Ramses VI, because he assumed a name, `meryamun', was thought by many ancient, misinformed visitors to have been the legendary Memnon himself. His predecessor was Ramses IV/Tachos who was king for 6 years (360-354 BC) following the demise of Ramses III in 361 BC. About Tacos we provide information in our file on `Royal Glyphs'. He minted gold coins to pay his Greek mercenaries bearing the partial name `Ta...', as in `Tacos', the name under which he was known to them. These coins are an imitation of the Greek `stater' bearing on one side the helmeted head of the Greek goddess `Athena' and on the other side an owl. While the Greek version shows two leaves on a short olive branch, the Egyptian shows a young, leafless sprout of a tree next to the owl. The frequently occurring letters on the Greek coin are `AOE' (A "Theta" E = "Athens").

That a comparison of these rulers is not always 100% convincing is in part due to the fact that in one existence their sparse records are written in a pictographic script, often syllabic characters, and in the other in alphabetic script. In each case the contents of their tombs have been robbed in antiquity leaving us with almost next to nothing to chronologically arrange these kings.

Notes and References

[100] For images and info see N. Reeves, `Ancient Egypt', p. 17.

[130] N.A. Spencer, `The Epigraphic Survey of Samanud' in JEA, Vol. 58 1999, p. 55-83.

[140] Translated from Walter Niederberger's, Elephantine XX - Der Chnumtempel Nektanebos' II.' Mainz 1999.

[150] From page 64 pointing to, Ref. 399, p. 93. The mortar of Nektanebo was analyzed and found to be made of: sand, ca. 0-1 mm, colored mixture with brown and red, edgy coernels of grains besides rounded examples. The adhering matrix was found to be: calcium sulfate, possibly anhydrite or bassanite (dehydrated gypsum) with only few traces of carbonate. In contrast to this the mortar of the Ptolemaic period was found to be made of reddish, plenty of sand starved [gemagertem], mortar. Gypsum mortar was also used to repair damaged areas and for the construction of the Cachette in the foundation of the pillared hall. Other areas are described as, `The foundation wall and the bricks of the courtyard are put together with lesser starved clay mortar. The plastered foundation wall contains considerable amounts of straw. The clay mortar was transported in badly baked clay containers. One such vessel was found smashed just north of the inner surround wall of the temple in the matrix of a clay mixing area.'

[190] Transl. by CIAS from Hanna Jenni, `Elephantine XVII - Die Dekoration des Chnumtempels auf Elephantine durch Nektanebos II', Mainz, 1998, Vol. p. 34.

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