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The Late Period The Saite Renaissance

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The Late Period The Saite Renaissance. 664-332 BC. 26th Dynasty (664-525 BC). Psamtek I 664-610 BC Nekau II 610-595 BC Psamtek II 595-589 BC Apries 589-570 BC Ahmose II 570-526 BC

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26th dynasty 664 525 bc
26th Dynasty (664-525 BC)

Psamtek I 664-610 BC

Nekau II 610-595 BC

Psamtek II 595-589 BC

Apries 589-570 BC

Ahmose II 570-526 BC

Psamtek III 526-525 BC

27th dynasty 1st persian period 525 404 bc
27th Dynasty (1st Persian Period)(525-404 BC)

Cambyses 525-522 BC

Darius I 522-486 BC

Xerxes I 486-465 BC

Artaxerxes I 465-424 BC

Darius II 424-405 BC

Artaxerxes II 405-359 BC

28th dynasty 404 399 bc
28th Dynasty (404-399 BC)

Amyrtaios 404-399 BC

29th Dynasty (399-380 BC)

Nepherites I 399-393 BC

Hakor 393-380 BC

Nepherites II c.380 BC

30th dynasty 380 343 bc
30th Dynasty (380-343 BC)

Nectanebo I 380-362 BC

Teos 362-360 BC

Nectanebo II 360-343 BC

2nd Persian Period (343-332 BC)

Artaxerxes III 343-338 BC

Arses 338-336 BC

Darius III 336-332 BC

The Late Period began with Psamtek I as the first king of the 26th Dynasty. The 26th Dynasty kings, for the last time, were able to unite Egypt and restore some of its original splendor during an era that we call the Saite Renaissance (650-525 BC). The name Saitecomes from the capital located in Sais and Renaissance comes from the era’s cultural devotion to revive the Old Kingdom’s splendor. This was the time when the decaying mortuary texts of the Old Kingdom were carefully recopied thereby preserved for the future.
psamtek i
Psamtek I

Inherited several internal and external problems:

  • Rivalry of the priesthood of Thebes and Libyan dynasts.
  • Ambitions of the Asiatics and Nubian kings to take over Egypt again.
  • When succeeded his father, Nekau I, to the throne, Egypt was still under Assyrian dominance.
The Assyrian Empire reached its zenith around 567 BC. A few years later it plunged into a civil war (651-648 BC), the Kingdom of Elam revolted, and the state of Judah under Josiah broke away. An emerging new power, the Medes, now started changing the old world order. The Medes allied with Babylon put an end to Assyrian hopes to conquer the great city, and Psamtek I’s multi-national troops supporting the Assyrians were caught in the middle.
Psamtek I realized that the Assyrians did not have the military strength to maintain control of Egypt so far away west.
  • He then quickly allied with Gyges, the Lydian king.
  • He also realized the advantage of using foreign mercenaries in his army. (See Herodotus’ account on the employment of Carian and Ionian mercenaries.)
  • By 660 BC he had control over the Delta, and in 4 years he took control of the entire country. This must have happened mostly by diplomatic means, with the army’s continuous presence and pressure.
He used Greek, Carian, Jewish and Shasu Bedouin mercenaries to keep Egypt’s enemies at bay, and also internally, against the machimoi, the warrior class of Egypt originally of Libyan descent.
  • Petrie’s work at the mercenary ‘camps,’ the stratopeda, at Tell Defenna. Later mutiny and relocation as noted by Herodotus.
  • To control the priesthood of Thebes Psamtek I appointed his daughter, Nitiqret, as God’s Wife of Amun.
He also realized the advantage to develop trade relations with Greece and Phoenicia.
  • Mostly Greek sources describe intensive trade with the Aegean. Best documented is the Greek city Naukratis established in the Delta, not far from Sais. From c. 570 BC, all Greek trade flew through Naukratis.
nekau ii
Nekau II
  • The turning point for the Assyrian Empire was the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC by the assaulting forces of the Medes forcing the Assyrians to retreat to Haran. Psamtek I himself died when the Medes advanced to Haran. His son, Nekau/Necho II (610-595 BC) continued the fight the allied forces of the Medes and the Babylonians with varying success both on land and at sea.
Eventually, Nekau II was forced to retreat to the Delta and fought against the Babylonian army under Nebuchadnezzar trying to enter to Egypt. (The Babylonian king conquered Jerusalem and installed Zedekiah as king hostile to Egypt.)
  • Nekau II is also credited to construct a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea.
  • Herodotus also mentioned that Nekau II supported the circumnavigation of Africa.

When Psamtek II died, Egypt’s careful diplomacy ended with his young son Apries (589-570 BC) ascending to the throne. He first made Jerusalem and some of the cities of the Levant to revolt against Babylonian rule but his attempt failed after Nebuchadnezzar’s the second successful assault on Jerusalem. He also conducted a series of campaigns against Cyprus and Phoenicia. At the end of his reign, Apries also fought against Cyrene, a Greek colony in Libya. His troops mutinied and elected general Ahmose II as their leader. In the ensuing conflict Apries died and Ahmose II (570-526 BC) became pharaoh.

ahmose ii
Ahmose II

Once again the new king’s careful diplomacy resulted in a long and peaceful reign. The rising new Persian power ended the almost idyllic state of affairs in Egypt. Against Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, he created an international alliance consisting of Egypt, Croesus of Lydia, Sparta, and Chaldaeans. Although the alliance was short lived, Cyrus the Great could not live to see the Persian conquest of Egypt. Neither could Ahmose II as he died when Cyrus’ son, Cambyses (530-522 BC) was preparing the Persian invasion of Egypt.

the first persian period
The First Persian Period

The Persian conquest of Egypt by Cambyses in 525 BC ended the Saite Renaissance abruptly, and during the 27th Dynasty Egypt became a satrapy ruled by a Persian appointed local satrap with the Persian king residing in the distant capital of the Empire.

The satrap, selected from the Persian elite, was essentially a viceroy, whose actions were carefully monitored by the Persian king’s eyes, or by the listeners.

The written evidence about Cambyses is contradictory. According to classical authors, the hatred of the Egyptians for their Persian overlord exceeded even that of the Libyans and the Nubians especially during Cambyses reign who paid no attention to and did not understand the refined culture of Egypt.

For example, in his HistoriesHerodotus tells that Cambyses, in a jealous rage, stabbed the Apis bull that died shortly afterwards and the priests buried it secretly in the Serapeum.

On the other hand, the contrary is stated in an inscription of a statue, according to which Cambyses assumed the forms of Egyptian kingship, promoted native Egyptians to assist in the government, and had deep respect to the Egyptian culture.

The situation is more clear with Darius I (522-486 BC) who fostered Egypt’s love for monumental buildings by enlarging the Serapeum, building a new temple of Amun at the el-Kharga Oasis and codified Egyptian law in Aramaic, the official language of the Persian Empire.

The Egyptians tried to shake off the Persian yoke several times notably after the Greek victory over Darius I but were successful only after the death of Darius II in 404 BC.

Amyrtaios (404-399 BC), a local king of Sais of Libyan descent and a single king of the 28th Dynasty, routed the Persians from Upper Egypt but the next in line Persian king, Artaxerxes II was still noted as Egypt’s ruler. The takeover was facilitated by Persia’s frustrating involvement with Greece and by their own civil war.

nepherites i
Nepherites I

Nepherites I (399-380 BC), the founder of the 29th Dynasty had a brief intermission from war and was able to initiate a modest building activity. It was during this time when the first Egyptian coins were minted.

manetho s last dynasty
Manetho’s Last Dynasty

The 30th Dynasty, the last native dynasty started with Nectanebo I usurping Nepherites II, the last king of the 29th Dynasty. Both dynasties had recurring military conflicts with Persia which eventually led to their defeat by Artaxerxes III 343 BC, and the new 31st (?) Persian Dynasty started.

persian control
Persian Control
  • The second Persian Period saw widespread plundering the Egyptian temples, and demolishing the defenses of every major city with intention to restore the order of the previous occupation.
  • Hatred for the Persians soon led to armed rebellion, which at times was succesful. This is certainly the case for Khababash (339-338 BC) who gained at least partial control of the country.

Amyntas was a Macedonian commander who deserted Alexander, went over to Darius’ side and actually commanded the Greek forces in the Persian army against Alexander in the battle of Issus. After the Persian defeat, with a force of 4000 he fled to Cyprus and then to Pelusium, pretending that he was appointed by Darius as governor of Egypt.

Once the Pelusians submitted to him he revealed his real motive to expel the Persians from Egypt. With many Egyptians coming to his side, he marched against Memphis, defeated the Persians there, and shut the remaining Persians up in the city. He neglected his defenses however and allowed his forces to scatter after the battle. The Persians once again came out of the city and defeated him. Amyntas was killed. It is quite easy to understand how little difficulty Alexander the Great then had in 332 BC to put an end to the Persian rule of Egypt.