Third Intermediate Period Begins in Egypt Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Political disunity after the New Kingdom left Egypt open to invasion, and the country was successively ruled from Nubia, Assyria, and Persia, until finally conquered by Alexander the Great.

Summary of Event

The Third Intermediate Period (1069-c. 332 b.c.e., which is sometimes broken into the Third Intermediate Period, 1069-644, and the Late Period, 644-c. 332) covers the time between the end of the powerful and centralized New Kingdom government and the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 b.c.e. Already by the end of the Twentieth Dynasty (1186-1069), Upper Egypt was effectively ruled by a family of High Priests of Amen, a family whose power continued unabated into the Twenty-first Dynasty (1069-945), whose nominal kings ruled from the Nile Delta. There was extensive intermarriage between the two families, and the Twenty-first Dynasty king Psusennes I was the grandson of Ramses XI and the son of Pinedjem, one of the High Priests of Amen. Psusennes I Piye Psamtik I Darius the Great Nectanebo II

The kings of the Twenty-first Dynasty were buried at their Delta capital of Tanis. The tomb of Psusennes I, within the precinct of a temple to Amen, is the only intact pharaonic grave ever found (the tomb of Tutankhamen had been looted at least twice). The king was buried in three nested coffins, the outer one pink granite and the middle of black granite, both originally used in the Nineteenth Dynasty, and the inner one of solid silver made for this king. Within the silver coffin lay Psusennes himself. A solid gold mask covered his head, and elaborate jewelry was placed on his body. The other partially robbed burials of kings and high officials at Tanis also yielded rich grave goods, but their excavation at the beginning of World War II limited the publicity surrounding their discovery, and they remain less well known than the burials of New Kingdom kings.

The succession of overlapping dynasties in the northern part of the country ended with the Nubian king Piye’s conquest of Egypt in the eighth century b.c.e. His kingdom of Napata had grown into the vacuum left after the Egyptians pulled back from direct control over their southern neighbors in the Twentieth Dynasty. The kings styled themselves as Egyptian kings, using titles and royal regalia based on Egyptian prototypes, and the chief deity of the kingdom was a local version of Amen. Although Piye conquered Egypt, he retained his capital at Napata in Nubia, and it was his successor Shabaka (r. 716-c. 702/698) who killed the rebellious Delta king in battle and moved his capital to the traditional Egyptian site of Memphis. Therefore, Shabaka is often credited with the foundation of the Twenty-fifth (Kushite) Dynasty, sometimes referred to as the Kushite kings. The rulers of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty were confronted with the surging Neo-Assyrian Empire, which invaded Egypt first in 671 b.c.e. and again sometime between 663 and 657 b.c.e. This latter invasion, during which the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal led his armies in the sack of Thebes, ended the Napatan domination of Egypt.

The Assyrians established an alliance with the kings of Saïs, who ruled Egypt after the Assyrians pulled back to attend to disunity closer to home. The Saite (Twenty-sixth) Dynasty (664-525 b.c.e.) began with Psamtik I, who ruled Egypt for more than fifty years and oversaw a renaissance in Egyptian art and religion. The emphasis on traditional artistic styles means that it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a sculpture from a Saite context is a Twenty-sixth Dynasty work or one from the Middle Kingdom transported to the site. There are Old Kingdom works on which a grid of the Saite period has been drawn, allowing an exact copy of the earlier work to be manufactured. A distinctive Saite style developed in parallel with the archaizing trend, and the sculptural production of the period provides the most beautiful examples of Egyptian art during the first millennium b.c.e.

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The Twenty-sixth Dynasty was brought to an end in 525 b.c.e. by the armies of Persia under Cambyses II. However, the Persians were never popular with their Egyptian vassals, and as the Persians under Darius the Great fought a series of losing battles against the Greeks (beginning with the Battle of Marathon in 490 b.c.e.), the Egyptians organized to throw off the foreign yoke. The success of Amyrtaeus of Saïs (r. 404-399), who was at least partially successful in leading the rebellion and united the Delta with the Nile Valley as far south as Aswān, was short-lived. He was unable to pass on his empire to any of his children and is the single king of the Twenty-eighth Dynasty. The last native Egyptian rulers were those of the Thirtieth Dynasty. Nectanebo II, the last king of that dynasty, lost control of Egypt to the Persians in 343 b.c.e. and fled to Nubia. He was the last ethnically native Egyptian to rule the country until the twentieth century of the common era.

Significance

During the Third Intermediate Period, Egypt became politically less isolated from the rest of the Mediterranean. This was manifested in the successive conquests of Egypt by rulers from both its north and its south. In addition, foreigners (including large numbers of Greeks) were recruited into the Egyptian armed forces as mercenaries and rewarded for their service with grants of land in the Delta and Fayum. The close relationship between Egypt and Greece set the stage for the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clayton, Peter A. Chronicle of the Pharaohs. London: Thames and Hudson, 1994. Reign-by-reign chronological account of Egyptian history, including even minor rulers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hope, Colin A. Gold of the Pharaohs. Sydney: International Cultural Corporation of Australia, 1988. Catalogue of an exhibition of material from the royal tombs of Tanis, dating to the Twenty-first and Twenty-second Dynasties. Extensive illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robins, Gay. The Art of Ancient Egypt. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Chapters 11 and 12 present the art of the period under discussion. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Welsby, Derek A. The Kingdom of Kush. London: British Museum Press, 1996. Discussion of the Napatan Dynasty (which includes the kings of the Egyptian Twenty-fifth Dynasty) and its Nubian successors, including history and archaeological material. Appendix with list of rulers, bibliography, index.
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Alexander the Great; Darius the Great; Piye; Psamtik I. Third Intermediate Period (Egypt)

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