New Kingdom (1567-1085 BC) of Egyptian History

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The New Kingdom (1567—1085 BC) consisted of the 18—20 Dynasties; it is sometimes known as the Egyptian Empire. It began with the expulsion of the Hyksos rulers from the Eastern Delta, where they had their capital Avaris. This was achieved by the native Theban rulers of the 17 Dynasty. (1650—1567 BC) who had been governing during the Second Intermediate Period in a subordinate capacity. Not only were the Hyksos defeated in Egypt but they were pursued into Asia and totally destroyed. The 18 Dynasty. (1567—1320 BC) produced a number of very able rulers who reasserted Egyptian control over the whole country and in Western Asia to the Euphrates and S into Sudan, known as Kush, as far as the fourth cataract. Kush was important for its supply of gold, copper and stone, hides and bows, and as a recruiting ground for mercenary troops who formed a sizeable part of the Egyptian army and the internal police force.

Under Makare Hatshepsut (1503 ВС), who reigned first as a regent queen and then as a king in her own right, the Egyptian artistic revival began. Her architect, Senenmut, built her a splendid mortuary temple at Thebes and this was followed by a series of temples and tombs built by the reigning kings. Her nephew, Tuthmosis III [1504 BC), was the greatest conqueror that Egypt was to produce. He also organised the expanding Egyptian Empire by bringing young Asiatic princes to be educated at the Egyptian court. On their return home, thoroughly Egyptianised, they governed their states under the control of Egyptian supervisors. It was not until the death of these men that Egypt faced external aggression.

Under Amenhotep III (1417 ВС) the Empire reached its zenith, and though he did not conduct any active campaigns he was a great hunter and builder. The country was settled and fairly prosperous so that he was able to devote his attention to building the temple at Luxor and a vast mortuary temple, now destroyed save for the Colossi of Memnon, the two seated statues that stood before it. He issued a series of commemorative scarabs for the principal events of his reign and conducted a number of dynastic marriages with the daughters of me rulers of western Asia.

But there were signs that the vigour of the kings was declining and Amenhotep III’s son Amenhotep IV (1379 BC), who took the name Akhenaten, was little interested in the government of the Empire. Probably as a result of a quarrel with the priesthood of Amun, the Leading god of Thebes, Akhenaten withdrew to his city Akhetaten, The Horizon of the Aten’ (modern al-‘Amarnah). Here he devoted himself to the worship of the Aten, a form of sun god shown as a disk with the rays ending in hands. This was not a new deity but had been known from the Old Kingdom, although not as a royal god. While Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti stayed at Akhetaten, the empire declined. An accidental discovery at al-‘Amarnah has revealed many Letters written by the princes of Western Asia to Akhenaten asking him for help in repelling invaders and for the return of the Egyptian garrisons to their cities. Whether Akhenaten ever saw this correspondence is uncertain, but many of the letters apparently remained unanswered. They were written in Akkadian, the contemporary diplomatic language of western Asia, and they provide a vivid picture of the disintegration of the Egyptian Empire.

Towards the end of his reign, Akhenaten took his brother Smenkhkare as co-regent and sent him to Thebes from Akhetaten, but he did not live more than a year or two. Akhenaten died at about the same time leaving Tutankhamun (1361 BC; a son of Amenhotep III) and Queen Tiy to assume the throne. The boy-king reigned for about ten years and died just as he was coming to manhood, leaving in his tomb an unsurpassed treasure, found in 1922 practically untouched. The last king of the dynasty, Horemheb, originally a general in command at Memphis, was not of royal blood, although he may have married one of the royal princesses to legitimise his position. He did much to restore Egypt both internally and externally.

The 19 Dyn. (1320—1200 BC) was also not of royal blood; its founders had been generals under the last rulers of the 18 Dynasty. Ramesses I, the first King, was already elderly when he came to the throne, and only reigned for two years. His son, Seti I (1318 BC), was in the prime of life he restored Egypt’s position through campaigns in western Asia and by a building programme, of which the best-known examples are his temple at Abydos and his tomb on the West Bank at Thebes. His taste was far superior to anything that the Egyptians had achieved for many years.

His son, Ramesses II (1304 BC), who came to the throne after a co-regency with his father, was also a great builder, but he was too hurried to accomplish really fine work, and his best memorial is probably his temple at Abu Simbel in Nubia. He also carried out further campaigns in Western Asia but here too he was not as successful as his father. There are varying accounts of the Battle of Kadesh, which Ramesses fought against the Hittites, and announced as a great victory. The Hittites, too, claimed success and the battle, in which Ramesses showed considerable bravery but not much judgement, was probably drawn. The Hittite problem was not settled until Ramesses married one of the Hittite princesses and concluded a peace treaty with Hattusilis II of Hatti, 21 years later.

Ramesses was followed by Merneptah (1236 BC), one of his many sons, a man already in middle age. Almost at once, he had to face a threat of invasion from Libya but he won a decisive victory in the Western Delta. The rest of the 19 Dyn. is a period of confusion, with incursions from Asia and bad harvests. The last king, Siptah, seems to have been the legitimate heir of Seti II; he died childlessly and his wife Tawsert assumed the throne as either regent or queen.

Internal stability was not restored before the accession of Sethnakhte in 1200. Thus began the 20 Dyn. (c 1300—1085 BC), the only memorable king of which was the second ruler of the dynasty, Ramesses III (1198), who successfully defended Egypt against attacks from the Libyans and the Peoples of the Sea in his fifth and seventh years. Egypt, by now, was in a poor way. She had lost her Asiatic empire and was thus denied the use of Asian iron; the gold mines of Nubia were exhausted and low Niles and bad harvests upset the internal economy. The later kings of the dynasty, all called Ramesses, are shadowy figures (even their number is disputed), struggling with strikes of the necropolis workers and tomb robberies that they could not prevent. Towards the end, the power of the king was shared by the High Priest of Amun, partly because the earlier rulers had given away vast state wealth to the priesthood of Amun so that the temple became mightier than the state.

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